Mohammed Hamzah Khan had just been sentenced to a little more than three years in prison Friday for trying to fly overseas to join the Islamic State terrorism group when the judge told him to pay close attention to the way he’d just been treated under U.S. law.
Though Khan had faced up to 15 years behind bars, he’d instead been given a remarkable second chance, U.S. District Judge John Tharp said. He was afforded his right to counsel, his family and friends were allowed to support him in court and federal authorities had agreed to provide resources for years to come to get his life back on track.
It was the opposite of what he would have faced under Islamic State’s brand of justice, Tharp said.
“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, 21, dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit and black skull cap and sporting a thick, dark beard, showed no reaction as the judge handed down the sentence of 40 months in prison. Khan has already been in custody for two years, and with good behavior he’d be eligible for release in August when he plans to enroll in college.
By all accounts, it was an extremely lenient sentence for a conviction of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization. But it came with a creative twist: 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.
Under the deal, which was crafted after months of negotiation between prosecutors and Khan’s attorneys, Khan must seek “psychological and violent extremism counseling,” perform at least 120 hours of community service each year he’s under supervision and allow court personnel to search his cellphone, email and computer without a warrant.
After court, Khan’s father thanked the judge, the FBI and prosecutors “for what they have decided for our son.”
“We are very excited for his future,” Shafi Khan said in the lobby of the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.
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. Continue reading
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