Adel Daoud stood in orange jail clothes and leg chains in Chicago federal court, telling his judge he listened in disbelief this week to secret FBI recordings of him talking about killing non-Muslims in 2012. He said he kept asking himself, "Can that really be me?"
"I can't express how sorry I am," he said. Wednesday concluded a three-day sentencing that often focused on whether FBI agents manipulated a mentally fragile Daoud into going along with an ominous bombing plan the defense says he never would have thought of on his own.
"I'm sorry for taking the court's time, for making my parents cry, for making a bad name for the Muslim community and I'm sorry to the United States of America," Daoud said. Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman said she'd take the rest of the week to mull over an appropriate sentence and announce it Monday. Prosecutors want her to impose a 40-year prison term, while the defense said Daoud should be released as soon as a mental health treatment program can be tailored for him.
Daoud, of the Chicago suburb of Hillside, was arrested in an FBI sting in September 2012 after pushing a button on a remote he believed would set off a car bomb powerful enough to destroy much of the block. Undercover agents had supplied the fake bomb to Daoud, who was 18 at the time, telling him it would kill hundreds of people.
Reading from a piece of paper he unfolded at the courtroom podium, Daoud appeared calm and more somber than in previous hearings, when his jovial exterior belied the seriousness of his legal plight. In the FBI recordings, he was almost always laughing and giggling.
Daoud also told Coleman he now realizes — in contrast to his belief in 2012 — that the Islamic concept of jihad doesn't have to mean "war." "It can be a verbal confrontation rather than a physical one," he said.
Daoud entered an Alford plea in November, saying at the time that he accepted the "factual basis" of the charges against him but denied culpability and maintained his innocence. In addition to terrorism charges, Daoud was also convicted for soliciting an agent's slaying and for attacking an inmate in jail.
Coleman temporarily deemed Daoud mentally unfit for trial in 2016, concluding he sincerely believed Illuminati and other shadowy figures were out to get him. Prosecutors on Wednesday played a video of Daoud in a car heading to the bar. He cups his hands in prayer, asking God to make the attack set for that day their first successful attack "but not our last."
Daoud's lawyer, Thomas Durkin, said he knows the FBI couldn't have ignored Daoud. But he said Daoud's demeanor made it obvious he had mental issues and prosecutors could have structured a sting around a less serious crime, like sending money to a terrorist group, "to get him off the street."
Instead, he said, they want him imprisoned for 40 years for "mass murder based on something they created." Prosecutor Barry Jonas noted that the defense pointed to how Daoud suggested an attack with "flying cars" as proof he was psychologically unstable.
"Flying cars actually exist, judge," Jonas said. "He talked about putting bombs in flying cars." The prosecutor, who cited magazines describing planes with retractable wings, added: "It's chilling."
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