Teen Who Wanted to Join ISIS Will Be Free to Start College

Illinois man to be sentenced today for trying to join ISIS.

“I hope you appreciate what has happened in this case," U.S. District Judge John J. Tharp told Mohammed Hamzah Khan at a sentencing hearing. "You are standing here as someone who was on his way to join an organization that would like nothing more than to destroy the United States. But you have not been treated as an enemy. You have been treated with respect."

Drawing a stark contrast between what he called the “barbarism” of ISIS and the “standards of civilization” in the U.S. courts, Tharp emphasized to Khan that “instead of a public be-heading, you have been given a public trial."

Khan was 19 years old when he was arrested at O’Hare International Airport in 2014, as he and his two teenage siblings, both minors, were preparing to travel overseas to join ISIS, the Syria-based terrorist group. The younger children were not charged.

As a condition of his release next August, Khan will be subject to what prosecutors and defense counsel agreed were among the strictest conditions of supervised release ever fashioned in this judicial district.

Khan will be more than 40 years old when the term of supervised release expires.

Ahead of sentencing today, Khan's attorney, Thomas Durkin, wrote to the court that his client's life was "well worth saving," and asked that he be able to begin college next fall.

“I think he deserves a chance,” Durkin said in court today. “I think he deserves mercy.”

Prosecutors had asked that Khan spend another three years in prison. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Hiller told the judge today the government was “cautiously optimistic” that Khan’s cooperation and acceptance of responsibility were indicative of his future and “that he will speak out against [ISIS] and the recruiting and propaganda.”

Following Khan’s arrest, prosecutors had revealed in court filings that the trio left behind letters for their parents, pleading that they not to call the police and laying out their motivations for leaving a comfortable life in the United States for one of jihad halfway around world.

But in a plea for leniency from the court, Durkin argued the good-bye letters were emblematic of the influence “ISIS’s asinine utopian recruitment promises” had on Khan and his sister and brother.

“[T]he recruitment of Mr. Khan and his minor siblings by savvy [ISIS] recruiters using persuasive propaganda on social media to capitalize on their susceptibility,” Durkin wrote, “played a very significant role in the commission of this offense.”

Khan’s parents have regularly attended court proceedings in his case. His mother, Zarine, last year fought back tears as she demanded that the leaders and recruiters of ISIS “leave our children alone.”

"The venom spewed by these groups and the violence committed by them find no support in the Quran and are completely at odds with our Islamic faith," she said.