Facebook/Hamzah Khan(NEW YORK) — Attorneys for Mohammed Hamzah Khan, an Illinois man scheduled to be sentenced Friday for attempting to join ISIS, are asking a federal judge to release him from prison in time for him to begin college next fall.
“His is a life well worth saving,” attorney Thomas Durkin wrote to the court in advance of Khan’s sentencing hearing this afternoon, imploring the judge “to fashion a sentence that is tempered with mercy.”
Khan was 19 years old when he was arrested by federal agents in October 2014 at O’Hare International Airport as he and his two teenage siblings, both minors, were preparing to travel overseas to join the Syria-based terrorist group. The younger children were not charged.
Following Khan’s arrest, federal prosecutors revealed in court filings that the trio left behind letters for their parents, pleading that they not to call the police and laying out their motivations for leaving a comfortable life in the United States for one of jihad halfway around world.
“I simply cannot sit here and let my brothers and sisters get killed with my own hard earned money,” Khan wrote in one letter, an apparent reference to U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria. He added that it was “obligatory upon every able-bodied male and female to migrate” to the newly declared “Islamic state.”
But in a plea for leniency from the court, Khan’s attorney argued the good-bye letters are emblematic of the influence “ISIS’s asinine utopian recruitment promises” had on Khan and his sister and brother.
“[T]he recruitment of Mr. Khan and his minor siblings by savvy [ISIS] recruiters using persuasive propaganda on social media to capitalize on their susceptibility,” Durkin wrote, “played a very significant role in the commission of this offense.”
Durkin is asking that Khan be granted supervised release by next August, so that he can enroll in college courses to develop the “critical thinking skills” necessary to make changes in his life.
Khan’s parents have regularly attended court proceedings in his case. His mother, Zarine, last year fought back tears as she demanded that the leaders and recruiters of ISIS “leave our children alone.”
“The venom spewed by these groups and the violence committed by them find no support in the Quran and are completely at odds with our Islamic faith,” she said.
In prison since his arrest, Khan began cooperating with counter-terrorism investigators after entering his guilty plea. Federal prosecutors said details Khan shared during more than 20 hours of debriefings have furthered active investigations of two ISIS fighters and recruiters, and have provided valuable information to foreign partners in the global fight against terrorism.
“By cooperating, Khan has taken an important step in turning away from [ISIS] and the purported religious authority of its recruiters and facilitators,” federal prosecutors wrote to the court earlier this month, while also crediting Khan for his acceptance of personal responsibility for the crime.
Still, the government seeks to keep Khan behind bars for nearly three more years, citing the seriousness of the offense, the involvement of his minor siblings and his use of multiple online aliases to communicate with Islamic State recruiters over a period of several months in 2014.
“This was not an impulsive decision or a moment of indiscretion,” prosecutors wrote in a recent court filing, but rather “a carefully calculated plan to take his younger siblings halfway around the world to join and support the barbaric Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIS].”
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