A 21-year-old Indian-American man has been sentenced to more than three years for trying to fly overseas to join Islamic State terrorist group, bringing an end to a case that garnered national headlines two years ago.
Mohammed Hamzah Khan, dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit and black skull cap and sporting a thick, dark beard, showed no reaction as the judge at a federal court in Chicago handed down the 40-month sentence, the Chaicago Tribune reported.
District Judge John Tharp said Khan had faced up to 15 years behind bars, he’d instead been given a second chance – the opposite of what he would have faced under IS’s brand of justice.
“Instead of a public beheading, you’ve been given a public trial proceeding,” Tharp said at the conclusion of a two-hour hearing. “The enemy government has not tried to kill you. It has tried to help you.”
Khan has already been in custody for two years, and with good behaviour he’d be eligible for release in August when he plans to enroll in college.
But in addition to the prison time, the judge ordered Khan to remain under court supervision for at least 20 years after his release, one of the longest periods of government monitoring ever ordered in Chicago’s federal court.
According to his lawyer Thomas Anthony Durkin, Khan’s family emigrated from India but has lived in the Chicago suburbs for many years. Khan was born in the US, graduated from high school and attended one year at Benedictine University in Lisle. He has no prior criminal history.
The sentencing brought an end to a case that garnered national headlines in October 2014, when Khan, then 19, was arrested at O’Hare International Airport as he tried to board a jet to Vienna with a connection to Istanbul. Traveling with Khan were his sister, then 17, and 16-year-old brother, who were both questioned at the airport by the FBI but were not charged.
Khan’s arrest came as US national security and counterterrorism officials were voicing growing concern over radicalised Americans traveling overseas to join IS, which at the time was seizing large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and committing high-profile beheadings of journalists, aid workers and other captives.
According to his plea agreement, Khan and his sister had been talking online with Islamic State members in Syria who offered to help them get to the Middle East to join the terrorist organisation. Khan admitted plotting to travel to Turkey so the contact could guide him and his siblings across the border, according to reports.
To fund the trip, Khan got a job as a stock clerk at a Menards store in July 2014. By September, he had saved enough to buy three round-trip tickets for himself and his siblings at a cost of USD 2,679, according to his plea agreement.
Khan told agents he expected his position with IS to be “some type of public service, a police force, humanitarian work or a combat role,” according to the charges.