A Brooklyn Islamist who joined the Islamic State in Syria before fleeing home and giving the FBI timely intelligence about terror threats was sentenced Thursday to 10 years of supervised release after telling a judge he knew almost immediately he had made a mistake.
The Bangladeshi immigrant could have received decades behind bars. But authorities took the unusual step of seeking leniency after prosecutors credited him with having a change of heart and secretly contacting the FBI to offer valuable intelligence.
U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein also decided that all of the man’s electronic communications will be monitored while he’s under supervision.
Asked by the judge why he went to Syria in the first place, the 29-year-old man — identified only as “John Doe” out of fear of retribution — said he was seeking to live in an “idealistic” Islamic society. Within days, he heard a sermon advocating suicide bombings.
“I wanted good and I saw nothing but evil,” he said. On Wednesday, he wept as he told the judge, “I made the greatest mistake of my life.”
Federal prosecutors have sought lengthy sentences in similar cases, but said that the man’s case differs. He succeeded in joining IS for several months in 2014 and gaining access to inside information as the group was trying to establish a self-styled caliphate.
He began talking “within hours” of sneaking away from an IS camp in Syria, making him “uniquely situated to inform the government of (the group’s) strategies, tactics, techniques, procedures, personnel and logistical operations,” prosecutors said. Once back in the U.S., he secretly pleaded guilty as part of a deal.
Details of the man’s odyssey had been kept under wraps until this week, when prosecutors unsealed court papers in advance of the sentencing hearing that began Wednesday.
The papers say the man had an uneventful upbringing in a Muslim household but grew despondent when his sister died from a sudden illness and he became immersed in Islam.
“I guess it was his way of mourning,” another of his sisters said Wednesday in court.