Ex-Honor Student Gets 5 Years in Terrorism Case

Maryclaire Dale, Washington Times, April 17, 2014

An immigrant teen who had earned a scholarship to an elite U.S. college but helped solicit support for Jihadists he met online was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison.

Mohammad Hassan Khalid had earned a full scholarship to Johns Hopkins University after just a few years in the United States, where his family was building a new life after leaving Pakistan.

As his parents and siblings worked to achieve the American dream, he retreated to his bedroom in the family’s cramped apartment near Baltimore, and joined radical Islamist chat rooms by the time he was 15. He was soon conversing with Coleen LaRose, a troubled Pennsylvania woman who called herself “Jihad Jane,” and other extremists.

“The upheavals of my life were distorted into a force of hate so strong that it wrapped me in its claws,” Khalid, now 21, told U.S. Judge Petrese B. Tucker. He said he had trouble speaking without being misunderstood.

Defense lawyers argued that Khalid was isolated and vulnerable because he was young, an immigrant and had Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder diagnosed since his arrest.

Federal prosecutors say Khalid used his “brilliance and eloquence,” along with his computer and video skills, to help them translate documents and try to recruit westerners. That got the attention of the FBI, which visited Khalid repeatedly.

“The FBI tried very sincerely to try to talk him out of his criminal conduct because of his youth. He wasn’t interested,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennfier Arbittier Williams argued. “It was his persistent desire to be an online hero in the world of Jihad” that got him into trouble, she said.

Since his 2011 arrest, Khalid has given significant help to U.S. officials pursuing various al-Qaida offshoots, assistance that took years off his potential sentence of 15 years for providing material aid to terrorists.

LaRose got a 10-year term in January for agreeing to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who drew a cartoon that had offended Muslims, while another American woman, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, got eight years. Both had moved to Ireland to join an alleged terror cell.

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Khalid never left Ellicott City, Md., but he opened a box LaRose had sent him that contained a passport and money. He sent some of the items to contacts in Ireland.

In court Thursday, Khalid said he hopes to rebuild his life with his family in the U.S., but knows he could be deported.

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Khalid was arrested just before he turned 18, becoming the rare juvenile charged in a federal terrorism case. He could leave prison in about 14 months, with time off for good behavior. The judge did order mental health treatment in prison and three years of supervised release.

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