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Ahmed Ferhani: Terrorist or Loser?

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So who is Ahmed Ferhani, sentenced last week to 10 years in jail after pleading guilty to planning to attack New York City synagogues?

Is he the "lone-wolf" terrorist, whose arrest two years ago made world-wide headlines when at a City Hall news conference in May, 2011, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance at his side, accused Ferhani of plotting to blow up the largest synagogue in Manhattan and kill as many Jews as possible?

Or is Ferhani, as his lawyer claimed, an impoverished Algerian immigrant with psychiatric issues, molested as a child, in and out of jail for minor crimes and manipulated by an NYPD undercover officer whom the FBI regarded as untrustworthy?

Ferhani is, in fact, the first terrorist prosecuted in state court under a law passed after 9/11.

He is also the NYPD's second terrorist convicted without the help of the FBI, which absented itself from the Hall news conference and played no role in Ferhani's arrest and prosecution.

And he is yet another example of a "lone-wolf" terrorist prosecution whose initial hype does not appear to reflect the actual level of the terrorist threat.

Take the NYPD's first "lone-wolf" terrorist, Matin Siraj, a Pakistani immigrant, arrested on the eve the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square, accused of plotting to blow up the nearby Herald square subway station. Siraj's well-publicized arrest also received international attention.

Evidence at his trial, however, revealed he had an I.Q considered borderline-retarded; that the NYPD had paid an informant $100,000 to egg him on; and that his co-conspirator, James Elshafay, had been recently released from a mental institution. When arrested, he agreed to testify against Siraj in return for a five-year prison sentence. Siraj was convicted and sentenced to 30 years.

The NYPD's third "lone-wolf" case involves Jose Pimentel, a Dominican immigrant who also has mental issues and who, the NYPD says, was preparing to make bombs to attack police cars, government offices and soldiers returning from overseas. Supposedly inspired by Al Qaeda, his arrest also drew international attention.

Again, the FBI refused to help prosecute him. Law enforcement sources have said its agents were distrustful of the NYPD informant who developed the evidence against Pimentel because he smoked marijuana with him and even helped him construct the bombs.

In Ferhani's case, a grand jury rejected the top terrorism count, which carried a sentence of life. Instead, it indicted him on lesser terrorism, gun and hate crime counts.

Seated in Manhattan State Supreme Court last Friday, his head shaved, wearing glasses and an orange prison jump suit with the words DOC [Department of Correction] on the back, Ferhani spoke briefly before sentencing.

In unaccented English, he apologized to his parents, saying they had "taught me to put others before myself." He concluded with: "I will use this time to strengthen my mind and character."

Judge Michael Obus, a Columbia Law School graduate and former Legal Aide attorney for 12 years, responded, "I hope you were sincere."

Appearing sympathetic to Ferhani's past difficulties, Obus added: "I know no one was hurt but your conduct was potentially damaging... This was not a way to involve yourself in a civilized society."

Ferhani's Palestinian-American lawyer Lamis Jamal Deek, who represented him pro-bono as his family lacks money, portrayed his reduced, 10-year sentence -- as she has the grand jury's decision not to indict him on the top terrorism count -- as a kind of Pyrrhic victory. After he completes his sentence, Ferhani is to be deported back to Algeria.

Meanwhile, District Attorney Vance, who stands ready to prosecute Pimentel, wrote an op-ed piece in the NY Post the day after Ferhani's sentencing, asserting his determination to work with the NYPD in prosecuting "lone-wolf" terrorists -- along with banking miscreants who finance clients in Iran, Libya and the Sudan.

It could be the opening salvo of a re-election campaign.

IN THE RIGHT. Could anything be more clear cut? A 16-year-old Brooklyn gangbanger points a loaded .38 at two cops who fire 11 shots, striking him seven times and killing him.

When City Councilman Jumaane Williams appears to defend a rioting group of teenagers who then trash a local pharmacy and beat up two people, saying, "There's a lot of anger out there," and suggesting that their actions are a response to the NYPD's ubiquitous stop and frisk policy, he is rightly pilloried in the media.

Police Commissioner Kelly rightly defends the two officers -- a stark contrast to his early days as commissioner when in 2004 he, fearing a riot following the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer, blamed the officer for what a Brooklyn grand jury subsequently decided was an accident.

For once, this reporter even found himself agreeing with the Daily News, which headlined its editorial condemning the rioting, "Rage without cause."

Ditto with McManus of the Post, Kelly's Harvard Club luncheon buddy, whose headline on his most recent column read: "Blame Kimani Gray. The Cops were doing their job."

And then came Saturday's Daily News story by its veteran police and court reporter John Marzulli. He reported that the two cops who shot Gray -- Sgt. Mourad Mourad and Officer Jovaniel Cordova -- had been named in five prior federal lawsuits for which the city paid out a total of $215,000 in settlements.

All the suits alleged civil rights violations, including illegal stop and search and false arrest -- i.e., stop and frisk.

Lawyer Brett Klein, who filed four of the suits, was quoted as saying: "In each case, Mourad and Cordova attempted to cover up their misconduct by falsifying and fabricating evidence."

Granted, those five cases civil rights cases seem relatively minor, compared to the fatal shooting of Kimani Gray. Still, they raise the uncomfortable thought: What if?

With editing from Donald Forst.