TAMPA — Sami Osmakac, the Kosovo-born man who threatened to stage a series of terrorist attacks in Tampa, was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years in prison.
Convicted in June of possessing an unregistered AK-47 and attempting to use weapons of mass destruction — a reference to the car bomb, six grenades and suicide vest he planned to use — Osmakac faced the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison. But federal prosecutors did not aim for the harshest sentence. Rather, they asked for and received from Judge Mary S. Scriven a lengthy prison term, followed by a lifetime of probation. Under this sentence, Osmakac, a 27-year-old Pinellas Park resident, will not emerge from a prison cell until he's in his 60s.
Federal prosecutors had accused Osmakac, an American Muslim who held extreme views on Islam, of plotting to kill hundreds of people by targeting several densely populated areas in Tampa. His plans, which never came to fruition, included bombing a South Tampa pub and then traveling to another location where he would detonate a suicide vest packed with explosives. Recorded in a series of incriminating conversations with an undercover FBI agent, he railed against Muslims who refused to join his crusade and expressed hope that he would wake up in heaven.
Osmakac's attorneys, George and Peter Tragos, argued that he deserved, at most, 20 years — a sentence in keeping with other U.S. terrorism cases. Seated at the defense table, Osmakac looked gaunt; he has not been eating, a psychologist testified. He declined to address the judge.
Throughout Osmakac's trial, the defense team argued that their client was mentally ill and had been steered toward radical and violent ideas by FBI agents and a confidential informer whose identity and motive were never revealed. Moreover, Osmakac was essentially broke and would have been unable to buy weapons if the FBI had not given money to the informer, who then gave it to Osmakac, they said.
The weapons he bought were also provided by the FBI. And in the ultimate sign of the agency's regard for Osmakac's know-how, the car bomb came with instructions telling him how to detonate it.
"We still believe in his innocence," George Tragos said following the sentencing. "We still believe this crime was initiated by the government. The government provided the money on the front end, the explosives on the back end, and it was a totally manufactured crime."
Calling Osmakac "particularly dangerous," prosecutor Sara Sweeney dismissed the claim that the government had entrapped him. "The defendant's intent here was so strong and so corroborated," she said.
Osmakac's sentencing was interrupted by his brother's testimony that various friends and acquaintances had been intimidated by FBI agents and dissuaded from testifying at his trial. Some of the people who encouraged Sami Osmakac's extreme views "disappeared" after he was arrested, said Avni Osmakac, citing an American convert to Islam named Russell Dennison. Osmakac's family has long believed that Dennison is working for the FBI.
"I am aware of nothing like that," Sweeney said. She refused to say where Dennison is currently living, only that he is no longer in the United States.
Tragos withdrew from the case on Wednesday, citing the Osmakac's family's inability to continue to pay him. After selling their home and spending thousands of dollars on their son's defense, Osmakac's family will turn to a court-appointed attorney. An appeal is expected.
Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.