PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A Pakistani immigrant who is the youngest person ever convicted of U.S. terror charges was sentenced to five years in prison on Thursday after pleading guilty to taking part in a plan to kill a Swedish artist.
The immigrant, Mohammad Hassan Khalid, 20, who has been in custody three years for his role in the “Jihad Jane” conspiracy, will receive credit for that time and serve an additional two years in prison to finish his sentence, said the sentencing judge, Petrese Tucker, of U.S. district court in Philadelphia.
Dressed in a baggy green prison jumpsuit, Khalid begged the judge for mercy and thanked his parents for their support during a court appearance.
“Mom, Dad, you will forgive me 1,000 times even though I don’t ask for it,” said Khalid, who pleaded guilty to committing related crimes when he was as young as 15 and living in his parents’ apartment in suburban Maryland.
He was arrested in 2011 on charges he provided material support to terrorists working with a suburban Philadelphia housewife who went by the nickname Jihad Jane. Her real name is Colleen LaRose.
LaRose in January was sentenced to 10 years in prison for planning to murder artist Lars Vilks, who had depicted the head of the Muslim Prophet Mohammad on a dog.
Prosecutors had asked for a stiff sentence for Khalid, arguing that his translations of extremist propaganda helped explain violent ideologies to potential recruits on the Internet.
Khalid had faced up to 15 years in prison but prosecutors asked for a shorter sentence because he cooperated after his arrest.
His lawyer called the case overblown and described his client as an awkward, isolated and vulnerable boy who has since been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism characterized by repetitive behavior, a need for rules and routines, and problems with social interaction.
The link between LaRose and Khalid, and his double life as honor student and online jihadist, were chronicled in a 2011 Reuters investigative series. (Reuters series: reut.rs/1eqk6sJ)
LaRose admitted to following orders in 2009 from alleged al Qaeda operatives. She traveled to Ireland that fall to meet an Algerian, Ali Damache, who she believed would train her.
The plot was not carried out and Damache is fighting extradition from Ireland to the United States on terror charges. Prosecutors said Khalid helped Damache recruit others and helped LaRose destroy evidence.
Officials said Khalid “worked tirelessly” with two other American men now serving long prison terms on terror charges in other failed plots, Emerson Begolly and Reed Stanley Berry. Prosecutors say he helped them translate violent jihad videos from Urdu to English.
Prosecutors also cited online postings in which Khalid tried to raise money for terrorists, but there is no public evidence that anyone ever sent him any money.
Before his arrest, Khalid had been offered a full scholarship by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He now tutors other prisoners taking high-school equivalency programs, a program that he had to go through in prison because he was arrested before graduating from high school.
Editing by Scott Malone, Lisa Shumaker, Cynthia Osterman and Steve Orlofsky