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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

Friday, May 27, 2016

Member Of Al Qaeda In The Arabian Peninsula Sentenced To 40 Years In Prison In Manhattan Federal Court

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and John P. Carlin, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, announced that MINH QUANG PHAM, a/k/a “Amin,” was sentenced today in Manhattan federal court to 40 years in prison for his efforts in support of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (“AQAP”), a designated foreign terrorist organization.  PHAM was arrested in the United Kingdom on June 29, 2012, and was extradited to the United States in February 2015.  PHAM pleaded guilty on January 8, 2016, to providing material support to AQAP, conspiring to receive military training from AQAP, and possessing and using a machine gun in furtherance of crimes of violence.  U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan imposed today’s sentence. 

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Minh Quang Pham committed himself to the violent mission of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a terrorist organization that has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks around the world, including the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.  Pham went to Yemen to receive military training from AQAP and contributed to Inspire magazine, a recruitment tool and ‘how-to’ guide for would-be terrorists around the world.  This prosecution and today’s sentencing show that terrorists and those who support them will continue to be brought to justice in American courts, thanks to the continuing resolve of the Department of Justice, this Office and our global law enforcement partners.”

Assistant Attorney General John P. Carlin said: “This sentence holds Minh Quang Pham accountable for his terrorist activities, including providing material support to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and receiving explosives training from Anwar al-Aulaqi in Yemen for the purpose of committing an attack in the United Kingdom.  Counterterrorism is the National Security Division’s highest priority, and we will continue to bring justice to those who seek to aid designated foreign terrorist organizations in their efforts to commit violent attacks against the United States and our allies.”

According to the Indictment, extradition materials and court filings, and statements made at related court proceedings, including today’s sentencing:

AQAP was designated by the United States Department of State as a foreign terrorist organization in January 2010.  AQAP’s leadership has publicly claimed responsibility for plots to murder U.S. nationals and commit terrorist attacks against U.S. interests, including the 2009 Christmas Day bomb plot, in which an AQAP operative attempted to detonate an explosive device on a civilian airplane traveling to Detroit, Michigan.  Only months later, AQAP attempted to detonate explosive devices within the holds of commercial airliners traveling to the United States.  More recently, AQAP claimed responsibility for the January 2015 massacre in Paris, France at the office of the magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.  The attack killed 11 people and injured 11 others.

In December 2010, after informing his wife and others that he planned to travel to Ireland, PHAM traveled from London, where he resided, to Yemen, the principal base of operations for AQAP.  PHAM traveled to Yemen in order to join AQAP, to wage jihad on behalf of AQAP, and to martyr himself for AQAP’s cause.  After arriving in Yemen, he swore an oath of loyalty to AQAP in the presence of an AQAP commander.

While in Yemen in 2010 and 2011, PHAM provided assistance to and received training from Anwar al-Aulaqi, a U.S.-born senior leader of AQAP.  Prior to al-Aulaqi’s death in September 2011, al-Aulaqi called on his followers to conduct attacks against American interests abroad, including by killing American civilians.  Al-Aulaqui advised PHAM to return to the United Kingdom for the purpose of finding and making contact with individuals who, like PHAM, wanted to travel to Yemen to join AQAP, and provided PHAM with money, as well as a telephone number and e-mail address that PHAM was to use to contact al-Aulaqi upon his return to the United Kingdom.  In addition, PHAM provided his laptop computer to al-Aulaqi, and al-Aulaqi provided PHAM with a new “clean” laptop to take with him when he returned to the United Kingdom so that PHAM would not have any issues if authorities searched his computer.

In or about June 2011, prior to his departure from Yemen, PHAM approached al-Aulaqi about conducting a suicide attack whereby he would “sacrifice” himself on behalf of AQAP.  Al-Aulaqi instructed PHAM to conduct a bombing at Heathrow International Airport, and specifically directed him to target the arrivals section, with a specific focus on the area where flights arrived from the United States or Israel.  In connection with that terrorist plot, which would have entailed PHAM carrying the explosive concealed in a backpack, PHAM received training from AQAP, including from al-Aulaqi, on how to build an explosive device using readily available household chemicals and other materials.  In particular, al-Aulaqi instructed PHAM to tape bolts around the explosive device to act as shrapnel.

During his time in Yemen, PHAM also assisted with the preparation and dissemination of AQAP’s propaganda magazine, Inspire.  AQAP uses Inspire magazine not only as a recruitment and propaganda tool, but also as an operational tool by encouraging its supporters to engage in terrorist attacks against the United States and other Western countries.  In furtherance of that goal, AQAP has published articles praising so-called “lone-wolf” style attacks, as well as articles providing detailed instructions on how to conduct a terror attack using household or commercially available materials.  Dzkokhar Tsarnaev – the convicted “Boston bomber” responsible for detonating two homemade bombs made from pressure cookers near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April 2013, killing three spectators and maiming 260 other people – previously told the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) that he and his brother learned how to create the pressure cooker bombs from Inspire magazine.

PHAM worked directly with now-deceased U.S. citizen Samir Kahn, who was a prominent member of AQAP and responsible for editing and publishing Inspire magazine.  PHAM, who has college degrees in both graphic design and animation, received training in the various types of software used for Inspire magazine and worked closely with Khan, contributing to the magazine in numerous ways.  For example, PHAM used graphic design software to edit videos and photos that would be used as propaganda in Inspire magazine; recorded television programs for Khan that Khan might find useful to the magazine; and offered his camera to be used for the taking of numerous photos used for Inspire magazine.  PHAM also posed in photographs that accompanied Inspire magazine’s articles and provided instructions to its followers.  Among those were a series of photographs accompanying an article with instructions on disassembling and cleaning a Kalashnikov assault rifle.  In another photograph, accompanying an article entitled, “Why Did I Choose Al Qaeda,” which was written by al-Aulaqi, PHAM and three other men were shown wielding automatic Kalashnikov assault rifles.  During his time in Yemen, PHAM received training from AQAP in the use of a Kalashnikov assault rifle, and was provided with a Kalashnikov assault rifle by the organization, which he carried with him in furtherance of his activities on behalf of AQAP in Yemen. 

On July 27, 2011, PHAM returned to the United Kingdom from Yemen.  Upon his arrival at London’s Heathrow International Airport, United Kingdom authorities detained PHAM, searched him, and recovered various materials from him.  For example, PHAM was found in possession of various electronic media that contained computer files forensically identical to those possessed by a cooperating witness who had previously reported sharing electronic documents with PHAM while they were in Yemen with AQAP.  In addition, upon his arrival in the United Kingdom from Yemen, PHAM was found to be in possession of a live round of .762 caliber armor-piercing ammunition, which is consistent with ammunition that is used in a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

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In imposing the 40-year prison term, Judge Nathan found that PHAM had been convicted of “among the most serious crimes” prosecutable in the United States, the details of which were “extremely disturbing.”  Judge Nathan found that PHAM provided material support to AQAP, including by agreeing to carry out a “horrific and violent” plot to conduct a suicide bombing at Heathrow International Airport in London. 

In addition to the 40-year prison term, Judge Nathan imposed a life term of supervised release and a $300 special assessment.  On January 8, 2016, Judge Nathan issued an order that PHAM be ordered removed from the United States to the United Kingdom promptly upon completion of his sentence.

Mr. Bharara praised the extraordinary investigative work of the Washington, D.C., Field Office of the FBI.  He also expressed his gratitude to the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force – which principally consists of agents from the FBI and detectives from the New York City Police Department – for the critical role it played in the investigation and prosecution.  In addition, Mr. Bharara thanked the Department of Justice’s National Security Division and Office of International Affairs.  Lastly, Mr. Bharara also thanked the British law enforcement authorities, including the Metropolitan Police Service/SO15 Counter Terrorism Command at New Scotland Yard and the Crown Prosecution Service, for their cooperation in the investigation and prosecution.

This case is being handled by the Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anna M. Skotko, Sean S. Buckley, Shane T. Stansbury, and Ian McGinley are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance provided by Rebecca Magnone of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.


National Security
Updated May 27, 2016