Police arrested Barry Bujol, 30, in May 2010 after he sneaked aboard a ship in the Port of Houston, apparently believing it would take him to the Middle East and a rendezvous with members of al-Qaida. Federal agents had been secretly watching Bujol while he attended Prairie View A&M University in Hempstead, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Bujol, who represented himself during his November trial, argued he was only traveling to the Middle East to learn Arabic and teach English.
"I am a person, not a terrorist," Bujol told U.S. District Judge David Hittner moments before his sentencing in Houston. "I only sought to exercise rights that any American, any person of moral integrity, would seek to exercise."
Prosecutors said it was clear Bujol intended to connect with al-Qaida members because a goodbye message he left for his wife included an image of deceased al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the Chronicle reported Thursday.
"We do not take matters of potential national security lightly," said Kenneth Magidson, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas. "This case and its successful resolution represents our commitment to making our communities a safer place to live."