(CN) - A former top aide to Osama bin Laden faces a tougher sentence after a federal appeals court in Manhattan ruled that the terrorism sentencing enhancement could apply to his conviction of stabbing a prison guard in a plot to assault his attorneys.
The 2nd Circuit ruled that U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts erred in capping Mamdouh Mahmud Salim's sentence to 32 years. Batts had refused to apply the terrorism enhancement on the basis that the stabbing did not "transcend national boundaries."
In 1999, Salim and others were indicted on charges of conspiring in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. While attempting to escape the Metropolitan Correctional Center, Salim stabbed guard Louis Pepe in the eye with a sharpened comb, causing brain damage and near blindness.
At a 10-day hearing, the government presented evidence that Salim and "unspecified others," including some of his co-defendants in the bombings case, had been plotting an escape plan that included taking hostages.
But Salim said he attacked Pepe in an effort to get the guard's keys, unlock a visitation room and assault his attorneys, hoping to force their withdrawal from his case. Salim was evidently dissatisfied with their representation and decided that assaulting them was his only recourse for new counsel.
Judge Batts rejected the government's theory that the attack on Pepe was motivated by an escape-hostage plan, concluding instead that Salim was trying to get at his lawyers.
Batts applied a three-level enhancement to Salim's sentencing, but refused to apply the terrorism enhancement, because she interpreted the statutory phrase "federal crime of terrorism" to mean "conduct transcending national boundaries."
The 2nd Circuit rejected this reasoning.
"Our refusal to incorporate a transnational conduct element in the definition of 'federal crime of terrorism' accords with the judgment of our sister circuits," Judge John Walker Jr. wrote.
The court vacated Salim's sentenced and remanded for resentencing.
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