ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A former National Guard soldier who admitted traveling to Africa and boarding a truck to join the Islamic State group before ultimately bailing out was sentenced Friday to 11 years in prison.
Mohamed Jalloh, 27, of Sterling, Virginia, pleaded guilty in October to attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group. Prosecutors had sought a 20-year sentence. The defense had asked for a term of less than seven years, saying the man has renounced the Islamic State.
"I'm sorry to the court, to the people and to the U.S. military," Jalloh said Friday, WRC-TV reported.
Jalloh is one of more than 100 people in the U.S. to be charged with terror offenses connected to the Islamic State since 2014, according to George Washington University's Extremism Tracker, and one of seven from the northern Virginia area alone to be charged in the past two years.
In Jalloh's case, the charges originated from an FBI sting operation. After his arrest, though, Jalloh admitted that he had made his own contact with the group before he had ever been introduced to the FBI informant — contact the government had been unaware of at the time.
Jalloh, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Sierra Leone, had traveled back to Africa with his father in 2015. While there, he met an Islamic State recruiter. In August 2015, Jalloh traveled from Sierra to Leone to stay with the group's facilitator. He intended to travel to Libya to join the Islamic State, but the plans fell through.
Later that year, Jalloh traveled to Niger, again with the intent of joining the group. This time, he went so far as to get on a truck with other recruits to trek across the Sahara to Libya. But, in court papers, Jalloh described how he got cold feet and sneaked off the truck after 18 hours.
"Guys in the truck would whip people with a hose to pack you in," Jalloh said, describing his experience as a recruit. "This was the worst, most scary situation that I had ever been in as an adult."
Before returning to the U.S., Jalloh made contact online with an IS operative named Abu Saad Sudani, who put Jalloh in contact with a person he hoped would help Jalloh carry out an attack in the U.S. But that person turned out to be a government informant.
In conversations with the informant, Jalloh discussed carrying out a Fort Hood-style attack. He also sent hundreds of dollars to an undercover FBI employee he believed was an IS member.
Jalloh's lawyers describe his interest in the Islamic State group as a "flirtation" that stemmed from a difficult childhood in war-torn Sierra Leone that left him with little parental guidance. They say that when Jalloh met with the informant, his goal was to be set up with a Muslim woman he could marry, but the informant continually steered the conversation to violence.
In court papers, Jalloh renounces the Islamic State group.
"I feel like a complete idiot for accepting such a superficial and dishonest interpretation of Islam," Jalloh wrote in a letter to the court.