HOUSTON - A Texas man convicted of trying to sneak out of the United States to give Al Qaeda restricted military documents, GPS equipment, and money was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison, the maximum punishment possible.
Barry Walter Bujol Jr. was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine during his sentencing hearing before US District Judge David Hittner.
Bujol was convicted in November on charges of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and aggravated identity theft.
“We do not take matters of potential national security lightly,’’ US Attorney Kenneth Magidson said in a statement. “This case and its successful resolution represents our commitment to making our communities a safer place to live.’’
Before his sentencing, Bujol told the judge he never wanted to hurt anyone. He also said prosecutors were wrong in portraying him as a terrorist.
“I’m a person, not a terrorist,’’ he said, adding that he had made some mistakes.
Bujol’s attorney, Daphne Silverman, had asked for a sentence of seven years, telling Hittner that her client was not dangerous.
“He’s an incredibly strong and peaceful person,’’ she said.
But prosecutor Stephen McIntyre said that Bujol, in coded messages sent to people he believed were members of Al Qaeda, advocated the destruction of US drones and the murder of American soldiers.
“The defendant talked about his desire to live and die with the brothers [members of Al Qaeda],’’ McIntyre said.
The judge sentenced Bujol to 15 years for the charge related to trying to provide help to a terrorist group and five years for identity theft. The judge ordered that the sentences be served consecutively.
Prosecutors said Bujol, a US citizen, sought to join Al Qaeda and provide it with money, two nonpublic restricted-access Army manuals related to US drones, and GPS equipment. He was arrested in May 2010 following a two-year investigation when he used false identification to sneak into a Houston port and board a ship for the Middle East.
The 31-year-old said he never intended to harm the United States or any Americans, and that he had wanted to leave the country because he was unhappy with US foreign policy, especially drone attacks. He said he wanted to become a better Muslim.
Authorities used an undercover informant who befriended Bujol and, posing as a recruiter for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, offered to help him get to the Middle East. The informant was not a law enforcement agent.
Prosecutors also said Bujol traded e-mails with US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who had ties to Al Qaeda.
Al-Awlaki, killed by a US drone strike in September in Yemen, is also believed to have exchanged e-mail with Major Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist charged in the slayings of 13 people in November 2009 at Fort Hood in Texas.
Bujol of Hempstead, 50 miles from Houston, was a student at Prairie View A&M University.