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Canadian parents plead for mercy ahead of son's sentencing in NYC bomb plot

Canadian parents plead for mercy ahead of son's sentencing in NYC bomb plot
From CBC - March 21, 2018

The parents of a Canadian man convicted of plotting ISIS attacks against busy New York City landmarks say their son was a mentally ill teenager and does not deserve to spend the rest of his life in prison, however horrible his crimes.

Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, 20, of Mississauga, Ont., pleaded guilty in October 2016 to conspiring with ISIS operatives in the failed plan to bomb Times Square and the city's subway system.

At his sentencing hearing in federal court on April 9, U.S. prosecutors will argue for life in prison, but his parents are appealing for a lesser sentence and treatment for their son.

In an exclusive interview with CBC News and the Toronto Star, Khdiga Metwally and Osama El Bahnasawy say they realize the gravity of their son's crimes.

But both say they firmly believe their son's history of mental illness and drug addiction made him vulnerable to manipulationfirst by ISIS recruiters, and then by the intelligence agents who were tracking him.

"We were struggling for this sick boy, and he [was] struggling for himself," says Metwally, her voice shaking. "Other people try to manipulate himwhen he was so isolated on the internet, to do violence."

El Bahnasawy had no criminal record and no history of violence, his parents say. Court documents report he was "radicalized mostly online by ISIS," beginning about eight months before his arrest.

He had previously described himself as an atheist, his father says.

"He did not even know how to pray."

'Please, take the medications'

In the fall of 2015, El Bahnasawy was 17 years old and living at home with his parents in a quiet suburban neighbourhood west of Toronto. He'd been kicked out of Grade 11 for acting out and, unbeknownst to his parents, started spending days at a time in ISIS chat rooms. Soon El Bahnasawy was in contact with a high-level ISIS recruiter and an undercover FBI agent posing as an ISIS agent.

At that time, El Bahnasawy had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had been in and out of drug rehab and mental health facilities five times, his parents say. He started complaining that the daily prescription drug regimen that had stabilized his moodswas making him drowsy and causing him to gain weight.

"We tried to convince him, 'Please, take the medications. It's very important,'" his mother says.

When he refused, Metwally started putting the medication in his food, but he could taste it and would refuse to eat it, she says.

By early 2016, encouraged by ISIS to plan an attack, ElBahnasawy bought peroxide and other bomb-making materials online and shipped them to the undercover FBI agent in New York.

Court documents say in early May, El Bahnasawy told the undercover agent: "These Americans need an attack. I wanna create the next 9/11."

The agent believed the attacks were planned for early June.

On May 21, 2016, when El Bahnasawy arrived in New Jersey on a road trip with his family, the FBI was waiting for him.

"When we reach the hotel in New Jersey, the FBI surrounded us in the parking lot and took my son from the car," Osama El Bahnasawy says.

"They told us at that time that my son had been in the chat rooms supporting ISIS," and they relayed the charges.

"We were shocked," he says.

The parents say they have spent two years desperately trying to figure out how this could have happened. How their son could have planned bombings in the name of ISIS.

Both say they are convinced his mental illness, which included diagnoses of bipolar disorder, obsessional traits and psychosis, left him vulnerable to manipulation. They question why authorities who knew of the plot did not intervene earlier to warn the family.

'Adangerous and calculating man'

'El Bahnasawy may be polite, soft-spoken, and articulate, but make no mistakebehind that veil is a dangerous and calculating man who displayed a knowing, willing and steadfast desire to kill in plotting the NYC attack.' - U.S. prosecutor Geoffrey Berman

'After a long transition in my thoughts ... I can finally say I do not want to take the path of violence or war anymore.' - AbdulrahmanElBahnasawy

'We ask for mercy'

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