Charges and Sentence

Abdulrahman’s detention in a New York prison was harsh and abusive, impeding his ability to assist in his defense and contributing to his decision to plead guilty to 7 charges and subsequently sentenced unreasonably to 40 years in prison. 



On October 13, 2016, only a few months after his arrest, Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy – influenced and manipulated by the federal defender – pleaded guilty to 7 charges:

  • Conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.
  • Conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, transcending national boundaries.
  • Conspiracy to bomb a place of public use and public transportation system.
  • Conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists.
  • Providing material support to terrorists.
  • Conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organisation.
  • Providing material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organisation.

It is clear that Abdulrahman was not fit to plead guilty to the charges against him. Years of mental health problems and substance usage did not magically disappear during his first months in prison – especially since being housed in SHU. His diagnosis of bipolar disorder, unspecified schizophrenia and other psychotic disorder was known by doctors in the prison. He complied in taking his medication but continued to experience anxiety, panic attacks and depression in confinement. Combined with the ‘Representation Issues‘, Abdulrahman did not have agency in his decision to plead guilty. He was not fit to make such a life changing decision and was wrongly influenced by the federal defender to do so.



The Sentence

Prior to his sentencing, Abdulrahman wrote a letter to the judge asking for a second chance. He even apologized for his mental health, something that the FBI and RCMP knowingly took advantage of.

Abdulrahman was wrongly put in this situation due to the controversial relationship his federal lawyers had with him. The reason Abdulrahman pleaded guilty to the 7 charges was because of the pressure his defense team (federal lawyers) who gained his trust told him it was the right decision to take. This outcome shocked Abdulrahman’s parents who advised their son to take private counsel which the federal defender urged Abdulrahman against it. Abdulrahman’s multiple requests to change lawyers and the federal defenders numerous demands to be relieved were both rejected multiple times by Judge Berman. It is in this dubious condition that Abdulrahman pleaded guilty and was now placed for sentencing.

During the sentencing, Judge Burman was pessimistic about Abdulrahman’s prognosis, anecdotally stating “people with these lifelong — particularly I’m now talking about mental health issues, which I suspect is a lifelong problem for him — and later on, combined with this severe drug addiction that he has, this is anecdotal, but I haven’t seen the ability to make that turnaround, to go from that situation to being a functioning law-abiding — we have to say because we’re a court — but productive member of society.” In regards to treatment, Dr. Porterfield testified in the sentencing after Judge Berman’s skepticism of Abdulrahman’s prognosis that “mental illness can be a lifelong condition, but it also is – we have abundant evidence of that, that ongoing treatment, identification of where the problem areas are and real support works and that people do get well.” Every doctor who assessed Abdulrahman reinforced this conclusion: treatment has been beneficial to Mr. Bahnasawy and that his mental health must be taken into consideration as a mitigating factor in sentencing.

Furthermore, Abdulrahman’s defence cited a study from George Washington University with regards to sentences imposed in cases from the United States dealing with ISIS. 13.4 years was the average number of years given for defendants whose average age was 28. Abdulrahman does not fit the profile of a terrorist. He had no knowledge or expertise on such terrorist-related issues like making a bomb; however, his mindset and actions of sending materials was influenced and instructed by the informants through the chats. The numerous conspiracy and providing material charges was enacted not by Abdulrahman but with the help and instruction of the undercover law enforcement.

On December 19, 2018, Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy was sentenced by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York presided by Judge Burman to 40 years in prison. Lifetime supervision was mandated after Abdulrahman’s release. Abdulrahman will have to take part in an intensive program for both counseling and substance abuse.

According to Judge Berman, the reasons for this sentence was due to the nature of the crime (terrorism-related charges), Abdulrahman’s willingness to carry out the plot, the lack of assurance to prognosis, the protection of the public, and deterrence [although the RCMP issued a statement saying that at no time was the safety or security of the public at risk when Abdulrahman was going to the United States]. The less than life sentence will allow Abdulrahman the opportunity to rejoin society. Judge Berman promised to do his best to provide services and treatment for Abdulrahman under incarceration despite the apparent lack of services provided by American prisons.

Abdulrahman does not belong in prison. He was a minor who was not taking his medication when he first began communicating with extremists and undervocer law enforcement. These charges against Abdulrahman are incredibly unjust since the conspiracy and material support was influenced and instructed by the undercover law enforcement. In regards to the sentence, it is overtly excessive and does not take into account Abdulrahman’s age and mental health issues. Judge Berman anecdotally stated that he did not believe Abdulrahman can make a positive change in his life despite doctors saying the opposite. Abdulrahman is in desperate need of mental health services that his home country can provide, which American institutions cannot. Further, he would be better supported by his family and community in Canada. 

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Next: Representation Issues

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"What makes this story even more disturbing is that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) knowingly participated in this sting with the FBI. They unlawfully obtained Abdulrahman’s medical records that described his mental health vulnerabilities and provided them to the FBI to better manipulate this damaged youth.

This raises serious human rights concerns of discriminatory investigations, targeting vulnerable youths such as Abdulrahman, who had no previous history of violence or criminality, until drawn in by a U.S. government actively involved in developing the plot, persuading and pressuring the target to participate."

Dennis Edney

Canadian Defence lawyer