AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A former top University of Texas student who pleaded guilty to charges of recruiting terrorists said Friday he was not anti-American and expressed remorse before a federal judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
Rahatul Ashikim Khan, a Bangladesh-born U.S. citizen and the son of a U.S. Army psychiatrist, is among what federal officials call a growing number of so-called homegrown terrorists who are trying to join or help Islamic insurgents fighting in Syria. FBI spokeswoman Michelle Lee said the bureau has identified roughly 200 people in the U.S. over the past couple years who have planned or traveled overseas to help insurgents.
Khan, 24, pleaded guilty last year to material support of terrorism. He was accused of using Internet message boards to identify potential terrorists while pulling a 3.75 GPA and even as his mother counseled soldiers at Fort Hood who had returned from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"When I was young, I ran into people who showed me the suffering of people all over the world," Khan told the court before his sentencing. "That led me to believe I had to do something."
His attorneys say Khan was an impressionable college student who smoked too much marijuana. They argued to U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks that the Justice Department was under pressure to bolster statistics on terrorism-related cases and that Khan, who had unknowingly worked with a confidential informant, had already started turning a leaf before his arrest.
But federal prosecutors say the damage had been done. Another Texas man who pleaded guilty to similar charges, Michael Wolfe, was sentenced in June to nearly seven years in prison after being arrested last summer at an airport. Prosecutors say Wolfe was on his way to Syria and accused Khan of helping him nearly getting on the plane.
Others may have also been influenced by Khan, prosecutors said.
"I don't know that the government knows all the people he planted seeds with," Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg Sofer said. "The stakes are incredibly high here for the U.S."
Khan's mother and other family members asked the judge for leniency, saying he owned up to his mistake and had a good heart.
Sparks called his sentence reasonable and described Khan's actions before being caught as scary.
"You pulled away," Sparks told Khan, "but you pulled away in an instance when you left a mess."
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