Facebook/Hamzah Khan(NEW YORK) — An Illinois man who tried to slip out of the country to join ISIS in the Middle East should be freed from prison in time for him to begin college courses next fall, a federal judge ruled Friday, but he will be subject to intensive, customized monitoring and supervision for 20 years following his release.
“I hope you appreciate what has happened in this case,” U.S. District Judge John J. Tharp told Mohammed Hamzah Khan at a sentencing hearing. “You are standing here as someone who was on his way to join an organization that would like nothing more than to destroy the United States. But you have not been treated as an enemy. You have been treated with respect.”
Drawing a stark contrast between what he called the “barbarism” of ISIS and the “standards of civilization” in the U.S. courts, Tharp emphasized to Khan that “instead of a public be-heading, you have been given a public trial.”
Khan was 19 years old when he was arrested at O’Hare International Airport in 2014, as he and his two teenage siblings, both minors, were preparing to travel overseas to join ISIS, the Syria-based terrorist group. The younger children were not charged.
As a condition of his release next August, Khan will be subject to what prosecutors and defense counsel agreed were among the strictest conditions of supervised release ever fashioned in this judicial district.
Khan will be required to participate in mental health treatment and violent extremism counseling. He’ll be required to consent to all reasonable searches of his person, property and all communications, with or without a warrant and to comply with a computer monitoring program on all devices capable of accessing the internet.
Khan will be more than 40 years old when the term of supervised release expires.
In prison since his arrest, Khan began cooperating with counter-terrorism investigators after entering a guilty plea last year. 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.
Ahead of sentencing Friday, Khan’s attorney, Thomas Durkin, wrote to the court that his client’s life was “well worth saving,” and asked that he be able to begin college next fall.
“I think he deserves a chance,” Durkin said in court Friday. “I think he deserves mercy.”
Prosecutors had asked that Khan spend another three years in prison. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Hiller told the judge Friday the government was “cautiously optimistic” that Khan’s cooperation and acceptance of responsibility were indicative of his future and “that he will speak out against [ISIS] and the recruiting and propaganda.”
Following Khan’s arrest, prosecutors had 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, Durkin argued the good-bye letters were 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.”
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.
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