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Two Iraqis Receive Different Sentences in Kentucky's First Terrorism Trial

Two Iraqi citizens living in Bowling Green who admitted sending weapons and money to Al-Qaeda in Iraq were sentenced yesterday in U.S. District Court in Bowling Green. Both Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanned Shareef Hamaddi admitted taking part in insurgent activities in Iraq prior to arriving in the U.S. in 2009.  Federal authorities found Alwan's fingerprint on an unexploded bomb in Iraq and launched an investigation.

The Iraqi men were arrested in 2011 after they agreed to help a government informant load cash and weapons into a tractor-trailer they were told was destined for Al-Qaeda in Iraq. 

Over the course of five hours, each man separately received his punishment. First to enter the courtroom was the 31-year-old Alwan. Wearing prison orange, he sat next to his interpreter, and appeared unmoved by the piercing stares from the courtroom audience. Justice Department Attorney Larry Schneider said Alwan was interested in becoming the leader of a terrorist cell in the U.S. and that he recruited Hammadi, describing him as "worth his weight in gold," and as an "experienced" insurgent.

Judge Thomas Russell said had Alwan not cooperated with prosecutors, he would have received a life sentence. Instead, the judge went with the government's recommendation of 40 years followed by lifetime supervised release. 

"A life sentence for Waad Alwan would have been appropriate given the very serious crimes he's committed, that he admitted to. And that would have been the sentence the United States would have advocated for, but for his quick and useful cooperation to the government," said David Hale, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky.

When given the opportunity, Alwan declined to make a statement to the court. His attorney, Scott Wendelsdorf, also declined comment after the hearing. 

Twenty-five year-old Mohanned Shareef Hammadi would learn his fate next. Throughout questioning from his attorney, Hammadi described to Judge Russell growing up poor in Bayji, Iraq and said life was no longer normal after the U.S. invasion in 2003. The hearing became heated at times as prosecutors accused him of  changing his story in an effort to secure less prison time. In the end, Judge Russell gave Hammadi the maximum sentence of life behind bars. His attorney James Earhart asked for a reduced sentence, arguing Hammadi played a minimal role in the conspiracy. 

"My client really wasn't part of trying to instigate any activity.  He did get caught up in the activity as many youth do. Unfortunately the activity in his world carries such serious consequences," Earhart said.

Earhart also suggested entrapment, arguing Hammadi was broke and had no weapons or means of transporting them when he was recruited by a government informant. The terrorist plot was actually a sting operation, in which the government provided the necessary money, weapons, and transportation. Earhart said his client would appeal the sentencing. 

Standing beside Bowling Green Police Chief Doug Hawkins outside the courthouse after the sentencings, U.S. Attorney David Hale said "the system worked."

"The joint terrorism task force led by the FBI included the partnership of the Bowling Green Police Department, and this is typical across the United States.  So what that means is a purported terrorist, a would-be terrorist is not going to find that it's easier to hide in a small town," said Hale.  "They may choose a small town over a large city, but it's not gonna matter because they're gonna find the same determined law enforcement response that these two found here in Bowling Green."

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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