By Bernard Vaughan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - An American Muslim convert who admitted he attempted to make a pipe bomb with the intent of influencing U.S. foreign policy pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a New York state terrorism charge in exchange for a 16-year prison sentence.
A judge in a packed courtroom at state Supreme Court in Manhattan read the statement by Jose Pimentel, 29, who said his aim was to "undermine support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to effectuate the withdrawal of the United States Forces from the Arab countries in the Middle East."
To build the bomb, he also said he read an article called "How to Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom" in Inspire, an online magazine published by al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula.
Pimentel, a Dominican-born U.S. citizen, was arrested in 2011 after a police informant secretly recorded meetings with Pimentel over several months as he bought bomb materials and read online instructions on how to assemble them, according to court documents.
Prosecutors characterized him as a "lone wolf" militant bent on attacking veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as police stations and post offices in and around New York City.
"Pimentel's conviction ... reminds us that the threat against us from homegrown terrorists is very real," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in a statement.
Pimentel, wearing an orange jumpsuit and a black knit skullcap, pleaded guilty to one count of attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the first degree as a crime of terrorism.
Lori Cohen, an attorney for Pimentel, said after the hearing that her client "wanted to accept a resolution that avoided the possibility of a life sentence."
She also said he will receive credit for the two years he has been incarcerated.
Despite the plea deal, Cohen and another of Pimentel's lawyers, Susan Walsh, questioned the investigation, including how and why authorities sheltered a confidential informant and gave him access to the Internet and a car. Walsh also said the informant often smoked marijuana during the investigation.
"The fundamental question which will not be answered in a court of law is who is recruiting who in this so-called war on terror?" Walsh said.
At a news conference following the hearing, Vance called evidence against Pimentel, including video and tape recordings, "rock solid." He said he was entirely comfortable with the plea deal.
When asked if investigators were aware that an informant used illegal substances during the investigation, Vance said, "We always wish that we ... might have priests or rabbis as our key witnesses."
"But this is life," Vance said. "We have to take our witnesses where we find them."
Pimentel's case represents the second one brought by Vance's office under New York anti-terrorism laws passed after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The other involved Moroccan-born American citizen Mohamed Mamdough, who was sentenced to five years in prison last year for plotting to blow up synagogues in New York City, and his co-conspirator, Ahmed Ferhani, an Algerian, who was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison.
(Additional reporting by Karen Freifeld; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jonathan Oatis)