HOUSTON (AP) – A U.S. citizen convicted of receiving training at a terrorist camp alongside al-Qaida members in his efforts to help overthrow the Somali government was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison.
Daniel Joseph Maldonado, 28, a Muslim convert also known as Daniel Aljughaifi and Abu Mohammed, also received a $1,000 fine.
Maldonado admitted to traveling in December to a terrorist camp in Somalia, where he was trained to use firearms and explosives in an effort to help topple the government and install an Islamic state. Members of al-Qaida were present at the camp.
Maldonado was captured by the Kenyan military while trying to flee Somalia in January and brought back to the United States in February.
In April he pleaded guilty to a charge of receiving training from a foreign terrorist organization.
Ten years was the maximum prison sentence Maldonado could have received. He faced a fine of up to $250,000. The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller.
Maldonado, who grew up in Pelham, N.H., lived in Houston for four months in 2005 before moving with his wife and three children to Cairo, Egypt.
Authorities said that after going to Egypt, Maldonado moved to Somalia with his wife and children. Just before his arrest as he and his family tried to leave Somalia and go to Kenya, they became separated. His wife, Tamekia Cunningham, later died of malaria. His three children are being cared for by his parents in New Hampshire.
FBI agents and prosecutors accused Maldonado of working to turn Somalia into another Iraq where insurgents would come in and terrorize the country.
In statements made to FBI agents after his arrest, Maldonado said he had “no problem” with killing Americans or with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Defense attorneys, however, described Maldonado as a man who, driven by anti-Muslim sentiment in America after the Sept. 11 attacks, moved away with his family so they could live in peace as Muslims.
His mother, Rena Maldonado, in a five-page letter submitted to Miller before Friday’s sentencing, asked the judge for leniency for her son.
“He is not a terrorist. But a man that loves his family and his country,” she wrote in her letter, which was part of court filing that included eight pages of photographs detailing Maldonado’s life. “He would have never wanted his children to come back here if he didn’t.”
Rena Maldonado said she took particular offense to claims that her son condoned the Sept. 11 attacks.
“The lies told by the press about Danny agreeing with 9/11 is completely absurd and a complete lie. This bothers us probably more than anything else because it is so untrue,” she wrote.