Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to sentence a Dayton man convicted of attempting to join a foreign terrorist organization to 30 to 40 years, in part because Laith Alebbini did not plead guilty, apologize or cooperate.
Alebbini, 28, was convicted last year of conspiracy and attempting to fly overseas to join ISIS. U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice found Alebbini guilty after a bench trial.
Alebbini is scheduled to be sentenced May 2 in Dayton’s U.S. District Court.
His federal public defender, Thomas Anderson, has asked for a minimal sentence and argued that the sentencing calculation for Alebbini’s crimes would be 63 to 78 months if not for a terrorism enhancement that bumps it to 360 to 480 months.
First Assistant U.S. attorney Vipal Patel’s memo challenges the defense position that Alebbini thought about going to Syria to fight against the Bashar al-Assad regime but didn’t actually do anything nor have any contact with ISIS.
“The case started and ended with action, not words,” wrote Patel. “Words played a significant part in this case and provided chilling insight into Alebbini’s mindset.
” ‘Just words,’ say Alebbini’s family, though they cannot be expected to know Alebbini’s deep-seeded commitment, willingness to engage in violence, and rationalization of ISIS’ brutality, having been lied to and tricked by Alebbini.”
Alebbini was arrested by the FBI on April 26, 2017, at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, as he approached the TSA security checkpoint.
Prosecutors said Alebbini had tickets for a flight to Jordan with a connection in Istanbul, Turkey, where he planned to get off the plane and instead go from Turkey into Syria.
In the combined 74 pages of a memorandum and case-by-case review of other terrorism-related sentences referenced by Thomas, Patel argued Alebbini did much more than just talk about going to Syria to fight for ISIS.
Patel’s memo recounts how Alebbini tried to get into the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., the “angry trashing” of anti-ISIS brochures at a Bellbrook mosque, research and consumption of ISIS propaganda and rejecting family’s and friends’ rejection of efforts to dissuade him from joining ISIS.
Patel said the FBI stopped Alebbini’s actions that sprang from a deeply held, twisted view of Islam.
“Terrorism strikes fear into the entire world,” Patel wrote. “It tears at the fabric and soul of a civilized society.
“The ripple effect is boundless, from a seemingly permanent change in the way in which we live and travel, to re-examined immigration practices and policies of governments, to a global machinery of terrorism response, including increased surveillance, policing and warfare.”
Anderson’s sentencing memo named 16 cases where federal defendants were sentenced to shorter or much shorter sentences than the 30- to 40-year range.
Patel countered by saying some of those defendants’ cases were not similar, others were for different counts and some records are sealed so context is hard to understand.
Anderson wrote that the case most like Alebbini’s was Mohammed Hamzah Khan, who received 3.3 years for attempting to provide material support to ISIS in the Northern District of Illinois.
“Khan compares favorably with Alebbini, i.e.: an individual who intended to join ISIS, arrived at the airport with that intention, and was stopped by law-enforcement officers before boarding the airplane,” Patel wrote, adding that Khan was debriefed for 20 hours and aided two cases against ISIS fighters and recruiters.
“But Khan made the decision to accept responsibility for his illegal conduct, and he pleaded guilty.”