Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, 35, got a break after helping the FBI investigate the al-Qaida-linked figure and others, including a Pennsylvania woman who called herself "Jihad Jane."
Prosecutors sought a 10-year term, chiefly because Paulin-Ramirez took her 6-year-old son to join a terror cell in Ireland, where he was taught to be a warrior and hate non-Muslims. The boy also endured physical abuse during the four-month stay. A video played in court Wednesday showed him reciting inflammatory verses and thrusting a toy weapon as his mother, laughing, says, "Go attack the kafir," or non-believers.
"I hope he actually forgets this, what I put him through," Paulin-Ramirez, of Leadville, Colo., told the judge. "I didn't want my son to think like that. I only wanted to help my son so he wouldn't get punished."
Paulin-Ramirez had led a troubled life before she fled to Waterford along Ireland's southern coast in 2009 to marry Ali Charaf Damache, whom she had met online as she researched and converted to Islam.
A defense expert testified that she had a twisted view of the religion, culled from extremist postings.
Paulin-Ramirez also came to know Colleen LaRose, who called herself "Jihad Jane" in YouTube videos and was looking for other American women to help the cause. They were sought for their Western looks and passports, which enabled them to travel more freely around the world.
Another chat-room contributor, high school honors student Mohammad Hassan Khalid of suburban Baltimore, became entangled with them. A Pakistani-American, the FBI arrested him at 17, as he was preparing to accept a prestigious college scholarship. Now 20, he remains in custody awaiting his sentence and could be deported.
LaRose, 50, of Pennsburg, Pa., was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for her role in the plot. She had agreed to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, whose drawings depicting the prophet Muhammad as a dog had offended Muslims.
Vilks has called the assassination plot "low-tech," and LaRose never got within 300 miles of him. However, Chief U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker said she didn't doubt LaRose's commitment.
The judge found it stunning that the two lonely women ran off to join strangers in search of a holy war.
"I, like the government, can't get past the fact that you took your son (there)," Tucker told Paulin-Ramirez. "You don't know where you're going, or what you were going to face when you got there."
And she called it "unforgiveable" that he was indoctrinated into terrorism.
The boy's life has apparently remained difficult. He was placed with his grandmother but was removed over a 2012 abuse complaint. Her husband has since been convicted, and the boy again resides with the grandmother, according to defense evidence.
Damache, known as "Black Flag," remains in custody in Ireland, fighting extradition on the Philadelphia indictment.
Prosecutors believe he is affiliated with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, an al-Qaida offshoot with a presence in Algeria. The group has never attempted an attack on the United States.
However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Williams said that defendants like the pair sentenced this week exacerbate security fears.
"It (also) hurts the Muslim religion she claims to love so much," Williams said of Paulin-Ramirez. "It creates fear. It creates bias."