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Man given 25 years for Catonsville recruiting center bomb plot

A Maryland man who once said he wanted to wage jihad against the United States renounced terrorism Friday as he was sentenced to 25 years for plotting to bomb a military recruiting center near Baltimore.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Manuelian told U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz that Antonio Martinez maintains the mindset that led him to place what he believed was a bomb in front of the recruiting center. However, Martinez said in a lengthy apology that he knew little of Islam when he was arrested and “all I had was a religious zeal.” Martinez repeatedly said that he has “renounced the misguidance of terrorism” and that the religion is not one “anyone in this courtroom should be afraid of.”

Martinez pleaded guilty in January. Prosecutors say he armed a fake bomb in a vehicle he parked in front of a Catonsville recruiting center in December 2010 before moving to a vantage point and using what he thought was a detonator when an undercover agent told him soldiers were in the building.

Eight family members and friends appeared in court, including Martinez’s mother, grandmother and sister. Wearing a burgundy jumpsuit with his hair in two braids, Martinez responded “I love you, too,” when one called out “I love you.”

Family members did not speak to reporters.

Prosecutors have said the case illustrates the U.S. Justice Department’s approach since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks of trying to catch suspects before they can carry out attacks. Defense attorney Joseph Balter told Motz before his client spoke that Martinez was an impressionable young man and wondered what might have happened if his client had run into someone who would have moderated his religious zeal.

“That’s the job of the rest of us,” not law enforcement, Motz said.

The judge said Martinez’s mission now was to show others that terrorism is not the way, adding the government will take actions it believes necessary to protect citizens.

The “fact that we are a tolerant people does not mean we are a weak people,” Motz said.

Outside the courtroom, Balter declined to comment when asked if his client was subjected to entrapment. The attorney, who said in court that Martinez’s conversion to Islam happened just months before he was arrested, said his client accepted responsibility for his actions.

In the plea agreement, Martinez acknowledged that he wanted to pursue jihad against the United States “to send a message that all American soldiers would be killed so long as the country continued its ‘war’ against Islam.”

An FBI informant contacted Martinez on Facebook after seeing public posts “espousing his extremist views” and recognizing him from a mosque he attended, according to court documents. Martinez later told the informant of his ideas for attacking military-linked sites and said all he thought about was jihad, according to the documents.

Balter said after the sentencing that Martinez’s statement shows he has changed.

“The type of activity that he was involved in this case does not reflect his feelings about his faith at this time, and it was important to renounce those voices,” Balter said.