Prosecutors seek up to 10 years for Howard County teen in terror plot

Mohammad Hassan Khalid, 20, was convicted in Philadelphia of aiding terrorists

January 05, 2014|By Ian Duncan, The Baltimore Sun

Federal prosecutors are calling for up to a decade in prison for the Howard County resident who became the youngest person ever charged in a terrorism case, arguing that the Pakistani immigrant "linked up with truly dangerous people."

Mohammad Hassan Khalid, who was a teenager with a full scholarship to Johns Hopkins University when he was charged, is scheduled for sentencing this week. Prosecutors in Philadelphia wrote in court papers that he lived a "double life," attending Mount Hebron High School, while also aiding extremists from his home.

Khalid pleaded guilty last year to working with a group of people — including a suburban Philadelphia woman known as JihadJane — who aspired to launch terror attacks in Europe. Recent court filings show both sides are wrestling with how to achieve justice when a teenager is drawn into a high-profile terror plot.

The young man, who also translated propaganda postings from terrorist websites, put his inside knowledge of extremist groups to work helping the FBI develop a number of other investigations, prosecutors wrote.

He should receive a lighter sentence than the 15-year maximum in exchange for that help, they argued, but they also asked the judge to use the sentencing to send a message to other would-be young radicals. Khalid's lawyer said in an interview the prosecution's recommendation is "ridiculous" and short-sighted.

Jeffrey M. Lindy, the defense attorney, said Khalid's actions were influenced by his youth and mental health issues — factors authorities acknowledge in court documents.

"It was like a video game to him," Lindy said.

Khalid, now 20, faces deportation after any prison term, Lindy added.

But prosecutors wrote that his youth had attracted particular attention to the case and that a stiff sentence would be a chance for the judge to deter others "who might be enticed by online extremists promising fame and honor."

Khalid pleaded guilty to assisting terrorists in May 2012, but his sentencing has been delayed several times. He is being held in a detention center in Philadelphia. He is scheduled to go before a judge Tuesday in Philadelphia for sentencing, the same week as two other women involved in the plot, but Lindy is seeking a further last-minute delay.

Khalid was charged with aiding Ali Charaf Damache, an Algerian man who lived in Ireland, and Colleen LaRose, known online as JihadJane. They worked to join what prosecutors called a "professional organized team," who would be trained by al-Qaida or other organizations to "kill, kidnap, maim or injure persons or damage property in a foreign country."

Khalid tried to scrub incriminating posts made by LaRose from an online forum, according to court documents, posted messages seeking to raise funds for the group and sent stolen identity documents to Damache.

Prosecutors have asked the judge to sentence LaRose, who was convicted of supporting terrorists, conspiring to kill someone abroad and other offenses, to "a very lengthy sentence of decades in prison." Her attorneys could not be reached for comment.

Damache, meanwhile, is in Ireland fighting extradition, according to court documents.

Khalid cooperated extensively with the FBI after his arrest, prosecutors wrote, suggesting he should receive a considerably lighter sentence than the maximum.

"His cooperation was impressive, long-lasting, multi-faceted, and genuine," prosectors wrote. "It helped the government in multiple very significant terrorism investigations and prosecutions."

The document does not detail the cases, but says Khalid testified before a grand jury twice and helped authorities identify targets in al-Qaida and obtain search warrants.

The prosecutors wrote Khalid's cooperation "indicates that he may have learned respect for the law," but added that "the government has concerns about whether he might be re-radicalized."

Lindy said authorities have brought those concerns on themselves, adding that he proposed sending Khalid to a secure residential facility for juveniles, which could have treated him for a compulsive interest in radical Islam. The government rejected the offer, Lindy said.

"That shows just how ridiculously ignorant they are about fighting terrorism," Lindy added.

LaRose, who is scheduled to be sentenced today, and another woman were scooped up first by authorities. Khalid was secretly arrested when he was 17 and later indicted — based in part on grand jury testimony from LaRose, according to court documents.

FBI agents had previously visited Khalid at his home, but he continued with his online work, prosecutors wrote.

"Khalid simply obtained a new computer, hacked into a third party's Internet connection and started up his activity once again," they wrote. "When Khalid learned that he had been referenced as an unindicted co-conspirator in the [LaRose] indictment … he boasted about it to strengthen his bona fides among his online associates."

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