A 16-year-old from York, S.C., – who prosecutors say was “seduced” by the Islamic State group and plotted to kill American troops in North Carolina – will spend up to the next five years in a juvenile prison after he was sentenced Tuesday on a gun charge.
The teen, an American citizen whose family is from Syria, wanted to join the terror organization and was scheming with a militant from North Carolina to rob a gun store near Raleigh, with plans of killing soldiers in retribution for American military action in the Middle East.
The teen was treated as a juvenile under S.C. law. The Observer does not name juveniles.
Prosecutors in Family Court asked for the maximum sentence of juvenile prison until age 21, because the teen was part of plans both to kill Americans in the United States and “to go to the Middle East and wage jihad.”
Yet because of the teen’s age, and no South Carolina laws regarding terrorism, the only charge prosecutors in York County could pursue was possession of a weapon by a minor, which was supported by the evidence in the case, 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett said. The teen was prosecuted and sentenced to the full extent of South Carolina law, Brackett said.
FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office officials in Columbia, Charlotte and Raleigh, declined to comment on whether there is a parallel federal investigation into either the teen or his alleged co-conspirator in the plot to steal the weapons and kill American military troops.
The teen was “wholeheartedly sincere in his beliefs, and we are very concerned for the safety of the community and the country,” 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett said. “He had a plan to randomly shoot American soldiers.”
The boy “embraced the ideology” of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, Brackett said, and his intent was to “join this violent, guerrilla, insurgent movement.”
Through social media and other contacts with militant Muslims in the Middle East and South Carolina and North Carolina, Brackett said, the Muslim teen was “seduced by the radical ideology known in the Middle East as ISIS. He wanted to join.”
After police found the boy with the gun in February, he admitted to York police detectives and FBI agents that through social media, the teen was part of a multi-state plot to kill troops because of the American presence in the Middle East. The Islamic State group espouses the killing of Americans and American sympathizers and targets and recruits young Muslims all over the world.
The teen once attended York Comprehensive High School, said his attorney, 16th Circuit Public Defender B.J. Barrowclough. He first told police he bought the gun for safety after the death of his father, but police searched his home and found the ISIS-related materials on his computer.
The boy later admitted that his plan was to arm himself and join fighters in Syria after he and the other man – charged in North Carolina but not named in court – robbed the store to get automatic weapons to gun down troops at one of many military bases in central and eastern North Carolina. That plot was stopped before it was ever set in motion, prosecutors said.
The teen apologized in court, saying that after his father’s death, his life spiraled out of control. He said he had “no intention” to carry out the plans for what prosecutors say was mass murder of Americans in South and North Carolina and holy war in the Middle East.
“I just regret it,” the boy said in court. “If I get out, I will be a completely different person. I want to change everything I did and go back and have a nice life.”
Barrowclough said the teen cooperated with police and prosecutors and pleaded guilty, but he initially wanted to go to Syria to fight with opposition groups because of atrocities committed against his family by the ruling Bashar Assad regime.
The teen’s intent was not to join the Islamic State terror squads, Barrowclough claimed, but to avenge Syrian government mass murder.
The boy did agree initially to the plot to rob the gun store in North Carolina and kill the soldiers, Barrowclough said, but in a week or two decided that he would not go through with killings in America and never acted on the “stupid” plan.
Without “ISIS ginning up the case,” Barrowclough argued, the gun charge against a teen would be cause for probation only.
“He is not a threat to anyone in this community or this country,” Barrowclough said.
The teen’s mother and uncle spoke on his behalf, saying he had “made a mistake” after his father’s death. They said the family had suffered killings and other crimes at the hands of the Assad regime. They did not try to excuse the boy’s behavior, however, admitting that he had done wrong.
The Observer is not naming the mother and uncle as that might tend to identify the boy.
The teen might have been lured by Islamic State recruiters who promised “adventure” through social media, his uncle said.
“My nephew...he believes in the law of the United States,” he said. “We never heard of ISIS before this.”
But Brackett, who conceded that Syrian President “Assad and his father (Hafez Assad) before him are butchers,” balked at any claim that the teen was just a misguided youth with noble intentions. The teen could not be talked out of his misguided ways by his family, Brackett said, and before he was caught, he had decided to join ISIS.
“He is a danger to the community ” Brackett said.
Family Court Judge Michael Holt of Darlington County imposed the maximum sentence allowed under state law for juveniles, meaning the boy will be in prison until he turns 21. If he shows changes in behavior, he could be eligible for early release.
Holt praised the teen for pleading guilty and cooperating with police, saying “you manned up.” He said he “regretfully” sentenced the teen to the harshest sentence because of the severity of the crime and the plot to kill Americans at home and abroad.
“You live in the greatest country on earth,” where no one is persecuted and murdered without consequence, as in Syria, the judge told the teen. “You have a wonderful life.”
Holt said the teen allowed militants to subvert his mind.
“You are better than that,” he said. “Your faith is better than that.
“The life you were talking about is a life of death.”
The young man is not a resident of Islamville, said Ali Rashid, who has been an elder of the community of a few hundred Muslims northeast of York for more than three decades. Islamville and its residents do not tolerate violence, terrorism or any act by anyone against the United States or any person, Rashid said.
“What this young person did is not all Muslims,” he said.
Muslims at Rock Hill’s Masjid Al-Salam – “mosque of peace” – said the young man’s actions are not what Islam is all about, and that ISIS’ brainwashing of young people must stop.
The teen belongs in custody, said Jasiri Makadara, spokesman for the mosque, so he can get the help he needs to rid his mind of the evils and tyranny of ISIS and terrorism.
“This young man, not even an adult, is clearly in need of help,” Makadara said. “We as Muslims do not tolerate this kind of behavior. ISIS continues to try to use social media to get these young people, and all of us must act together to stop it.”
Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065