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Islamic militancy

Islamic State ‘recruit’ from suburban Chicago jailed but could be out in less than a year

The 21-year-old Muslim wanted to go to Syria to join the militant group after being ‘brainwashed’ by online propaganda, his lawyer says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 November, 2016, 3:51pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 November, 2016, 7:59pm

A would-be Islamic State recruit who worked in a Chicago-area hardware shop was sentenced on Friday to more than three years in prison for seeking to join the militant group, federal prosecutors said.

In exchange for a more lenient sentence than he might otherwise have faced if tried and convicted, Mohammed Hamzah Khan, 21, pleaded guilty last year to a charge of attempting to provide material support, namely himself, to a terrorist organisation.

Kahn could have faced up to 15 years in prison. Prosecutors had asked for a five-year sentence, saying his cooperation in identifying two IS recruiters justified leniency. With time served since his arrest at a Chicago airport in 2014, Mohammed Hamzah Khan will be released late next year, after which his attorneys say he intends to enrol in college.

Khan’s lawyer said at the time of the plea that his client had been brainwashed by online propaganda.

In addition to his federal prison term, Khan will serve 20 years of supervised release once freed from custody, US District Judge John Tharp Jnr ruled during the sentencing in a Chicago courtroom.

Khan must also undergo mental health treatment, attend violent-extremism counselling and comply with a computer-monitoring programme, the Justice Department said.

Do we give in to the fear that we cannot trust that this kid will ever change? I think he deserves a chance
Defence lawyer Thomas Durkin

Khan was 19 when arrested in October 2014 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport as he was about to board a flight to the Middle East with his siblings, then 17 and 16 years old, according to the Justice Department. Prosecutors say Khan helped indoctrinate his brother and sister, who were not charged with anything. Tharp said he couldn’t reconcile Khan’s desire to join IS with portrayals by family and friends of him as caring and quick to help others. The judge’s explanation was that Khan had led a “sheltered” existence at his parents’ home in Bolingbrook and so was “vulnerable to being preyed on by terrorists.”

“The real issue here is risk. What is the risk that you pose to the public?” he said.

Defence lawyer Thomas Durkin had argued that individuals such as Khan should not be written off without a second chance for succumbing to adept IS propagandists who wooed them over the internet.

“Do we give in to the fear that we cannot trust that this kid will ever change?” Durkin said. “I think he deserves a chance.”

Tharp said he couldn’t accept that Khan’s hope was to get a non-military job in Syria, saying the Islamic State would surely press any young man into fighting.

“I don’t believe for a second ... that you would go to Syria and work as a chef,” he said.

Defence attorneys argued Khan now grasped that his ideas about IS were “unrealistic” and that he no longer glorified its trademark brutality.

Before adjourning, the judge contrasted the image of brutal executions in IS-controlled territory against Khan’s treatment in Chicago federal court.

“Instead of public beheading, you’ve been given a public ... proceeding,” Tharp said. “The enemy government has not tried to kill you. It has tried to help you.”

In a case similar to Khan’s, a man arrested while trying to board an airline flight from Los Angeles to Turkey last year was sentenced in September to 30 years in prison after a federal court jury found him guilty of conspiracy and attempting to join Islamic State.

Additional reporting by Associated Press