By Rashed Mian and Timothy Bolger
A Long Island man was sentenced Tuesday to 13 years in federal prison after he admitted trying to board a plane to Yemen to help al-Qaeda carry out terror attacks against America.
Justin Kaliebe, a resident of both Babylon and Bay Shore, had pleaded guilty in 2013 at Central Islip federal court to two felony counts of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
“This case is a sobering reminder that the call to violent jihad can reach deep into our local communities,” said Robert Capers, U.S Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “Even when given the opportunity to abandon his plan to join al-Qaeda, this defendant made clear his intentions to commit himself fully to terrorism.”
Prosecutors said Kaliebe was arrested when he tried to board a flight to Yemen to join al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP]. The FBI had been monitoring Kaliebe long before he tried to board a plane at John F. Kennedy Airport, where he was arrested. He was a high school senior at the time.
“He may have committed himself to a violent cause, but he’s not a violent man,” said Kaliebe’s attorney Anthony La Pinta, according to the Associated Press. Prior to his client’s sentencing, La Pinta argued that Kaliebe suffered from Asperger’s syndrome and problems at home.
In recorded phone conversations and email correspondences with an undercover officer, Kaliebe explained that for about two years he had been searching for an opportunity to travel internationally to fight alongside AQAP, prosecutors said.
Investigators said Kaliebe referenced and quoted the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a US drone strike alongside former Westbury resident Samir Khan.
According to one recorded conversation, Kaliebe said that once in Yemen he hoped to fight the “Yemeni army” and “those who are fighting against Sharia of Allah…whether it’s the US drones or…their puppets in the Yemeni army.”
Prosecutors said Kaliebe began saving money for his trip in July 2012. By the end of that year he was pledging loyalty to AQAP’s leaders.
Oblivious to law enforcement’s investigation of his activities, Kaliebe attempted to board a flight to Oman on Jan. 21, 2013 but was arrested by members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. Kaliebe pleaded guilty the following month for attempting to provide material support to AQAP and attempting to provide material support to terrorists.
Another Long Islander, Marcos Alonso Zea, who prosecutors said assisted Kaliebe in his efforts to join AQAP, previously pleaded guilty to similar charges and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Kaliebe’s sentencing leaves only Bryant Neal Vinas as the only remaining Long Islander with al Qaeda ties waiting to be sentenced. Vinas was arrested in Pakistan in 2008 and has been accused of a plot to attack the Long Island Rail Road. Vinas is believed to be cooperating with authorities.