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Minnesota man who joined Islamic State group is sentenced to 10 years in prison

The Diana E. Murphy U.S. Courthouse is seen in Minneapolis, Thursday, June 13, 2024. A Minnesota man who once fought for the Islamic State group in Syria after becoming radicalized expressed remorse and wept in open court Thursday as he was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. (AP Photo/Michael Goldberg)
Original Publication Date June 13, 2024 - 1:36 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man who once fought for the Islamic State group in Syria after becoming radicalized expressed remorse and wept in open court Thursday as he was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.

Abelhamid Al-Madioum, 27, cooperated with federal authorities ahead of Thursday's hearing, which prosecutors factored into their recommendation for a lower sentence than the statutory maximum of 20 years.

U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery said among the cases she has presided over in her 40 years on the bench, Al-Madioum's was “extraordinary." She cited his confounding path from a loving Minnesota home to one of the world's most notorious terror organizations and his subsequent collaboration with the government he betrayed.

When Al-Madioum rose to speak before being sentenced, he thanked the U.S. government for giving him another chance. He then turned to address his parents and two young sons, who were rescued from a Syrian orphanage and brought to America with the help of federal authorities.

“I know I put you through so much, and I did with the belief that it was my religious duty,” Al-Madioum said while fighting back tears. “That's no excuse. My first duty should have been to you.”

Al-Madioum, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was among several Minnesotans suspected of leaving the U.S. to join the Islamic State group, along with thousands of fighters from other countries worldwide. Roughly three dozen people are known to have left Minnesota to join militant groups in Somalia or Syria. In 2016, nine Minnesota men were sentenced on federal charges of conspiring to join IS.

But Al-Madioum is one of the relatively few Americans who have been brought back to the U.S. who actually fought for the group. According to a defense sentencing memo, he’s one of 11 adults as of 2023 to be formally repatriated to the U.S. from the conflict in Syria and Iraq to face charges for terrorist-related crimes and alleged affiliations with IS. Others received sentences ranging from four years to life plus 70 years.

Prosecutors had asked for a 12-year sentence, arguing that Al-Madioum’s suffering did not make his crimes any less serious. Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter said Al-Madioum self-radicalized online and helped IS, also known as ISIS, carry out its goals.

“Young men just like him all over the world ... allowed ISIS to flourish," Winter said.

Manvir Atwal, Al-Madioum’s attorney requested a seven-year sentence. She said Al-Madioum was taken in as an impressionable teenager by a well-oiled propaganda machine. He rejected extremist ideology years ago and had helped the government in other terrorism cases, which prosecutors confirmed.

Montgomery opted for a 10-year sentence, weighing sentencing guidelines with Al-Madioum's cooperation and letters on his behalf, including one from an unnamed former U.S. ambassador. He has already served over five years and might get credit for that time, Atwal said.

Al-Madioum grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park in a loving and nonreligious family, the defense memo said. He joined IS because he wanted to help Muslims he believed were being slaughtered by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in that country’s civil war. IS recruiters persuaded him “to test his faith and become a real Muslim.”

Al-Madioum was 18 in 2014 when IS recruited him. The college student slipped away from his family on a visit to their native Morocco in 2015. Making his way to Syria, he became a soldier for IS until he was maimed in an explosion in Iraq. His leg was shattered and his arm had to be amputated. Unable to fight, he used his computer skills to serve the group.

While still a member of IS, he married and had children with two women.

He had thought his second wife and their daughter had died. But in court Thursday, Al-Madioum said he had heard there is a chance she and their daughter might still be alive. That possibility remains under investigation, Atwal said.

Al-Madioum's first wife died in his arms after she was shot in front of him by either rebel forces or an IS fighter in 2019, the defense said. Al-Madioum said in court that he dug a trench and buried her.

The day after that shooting, he walked with his sons and surrendered to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which held him under conditions the defense described as “heinous” for 18 months until the FBI returned him to the U.S.

He pleaded guilty in 2021 to providing material support to a designated terrorist organization. His sons were eventually found in a Syrian orphanage, the culmination of what he and Montgomery described as a unique effort from U.S. diplomats and other officials.

Al-Madioum's parents were awarded custody of his sons after they arrived in America. Sitting in the court's gallery Thursday, his sons, ages 7 and 9, sat on their grandparents' laps and smiled at their father as he turned to face them.

News from © The Associated Press, 2024
The Associated Press

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