An American-born man accused of joining Al Qaeda in the early 1990s and plotting overseas attacks against Americans was sentenced on Thursday to 20 years in federal prison.
Christopher Paul was the last of three Columbus-area men to plead guilty on charges they plotted separate terrorist attacks.
US District Court Judge Gregory Frost said he was at a loss to explain how Paul got himself caught up in such a plot.
“It’s hard for me to get my mind around what you were conspiring to do,’’ Frost said.
Frost told Paul, a convert to Islam, that it was difficult to understand “how you allowed yourself to pervert the religion that you supposedly follow.’’
Paul, 44, pleaded guilty in June to one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction in terrorist attacks.
He was accused of joining Al Qaeda in the early 1990s and helping teach fellow Muslim extremists how to bomb US and European targets.
Prosecutors agreed to drop charges of providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy to provide support to terrorists.
Paul’s attorney, Jim Gilbert, declined to comment after the hearing.
The Justice Department accused Paul and two other men of discussing terrorist attacks during an August 2002 meeting at the Caribou Cafe coffee shop in Upper Arlington.
The other two also pleaded guilty: Nuradin Abdi in 2007 in connection with an alleged plot to blow up an Ohio shopping mall, and Iyman Faris in 2003 in connection with an alleged plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.
The government won’t say whether the case is closed.
Faris is serving his sentence at the federal supermaximum prison in Florence, Colorado, the same facility housing Ted Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber, and Zacarias Moussaoui, referred to as the 20th Sept. 11, 2001, hijacker.
Abdi is in a medium-security federal prison in Marion, Illinois.
Paul grew up in the Columbus suburb of Worthington. He was one of a handful of African-Americans at his high school, where he competed in gymnastics and was known as a friendly, cooperative and polite student who was never in trouble.
He spent a year at Ohio State University as an engineering major, then embarked on a sinister career, according to the government.
An FBI statement read at Paul’s plea hearing said Paul joined Al Qaeda after traveling to Afghanistan in the early 1990s and fought alongside mujahadeen battling Afghanistan’s post-Soviet Marxist government.
The FBI said Paul also tried to recruit other individuals in Columbus to join a holy warrior group and trained members of an alleged terrorist cell in Germany knowing the group was plotting to bomb American tourists and overseas US facilities such as embassies.
The government did not say if any attacks were carried out.