ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A northern Virginia teenager was sentenced Friday to more than 11 years in prison for helping another teen travel to Syria to join the Islamic State and for providing other aid to the militant group.
The judge said he considered 17-year-old Ali Shukri Amin's age and lack of a criminal record during sentencing in federal court in Alexandria. Amin told the judge he didn't "expect sympathy." Amin pleaded guilty in June to conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. The Manassas teen would have otherwise been graduating from high school with honors around the time of his plea. Juveniles rarely face charges in the federal system.
"I have not attempted to deny or explain away anything I have done," Amin said. He said he has "resolved to not blindly become more radical."
Defense attorney Joseph Flood had argued that a sentence of about six years was appropriate. He said in court that Amin's Twitter account may have had some 4,000 followers but that "his influence was actually very small."
In June, Flood said Amin was motivated by sincere religious beliefs and outrage at the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. He said Friday that Amin had been manipulated by older radicals and Amin has "repudiated ISIS" in conversations with family and religious leaders.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ben'Ary said in court Friday that Amin "wasn't being radicalized. He was radicalizing" others. He said Amin knew what he was doing was illegal.
"Today's sentencing demonstrates that those who use social media as a tool to provide support and resources to ISIL will be identified and prosecuted with no less vigilance than those who travel to take up arms with ISIL," U.S. Attorney Dana Boente said in a press release. "The Department of Justice will continue to pursue those that travel to fight against the United States and our allies, as well as those individuals that recruit others on behalf of ISIL in the homeland."
Amin admitted that he helped 18-year-old Reza Niknejad to travel to Syria to join the group in January. FBI Assistant Director Andrew McCabe said that after taking Niknejad to the airport, Amin delivered a letter and thumb drive to Niknejad's family informing them that they would likely never see him again.
"Today marks a personal tragedy for the Amin family and the community as we have lost yet another young person to the allure of extremist ideology focused on hatred," McCabe said in a news release. "Amin's case serves as a reminder of how persistent and pervasive online radicalization has become."
Charges against Niknejad were unsealed in June, alleging he conspired to provide material support to terrorists and conspired to kill and injure people abroad. Boente said at the time that Niknejad made it to Syria.
As part of his plea, Amin also admitted to using Twitter to provide advice and encouragement to the Islamic State and its supporters. Through his Twitter handle Amreekiwitness — Amreeki translates to "American" — Amin provided instruction on how to use Bitcoin, a virtual currency, to mask funds going to the group and helped supporters seeking to travel to Syria to fight with the group, court documents said.
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