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Ohio man gets 8 years in prison for aiding ISIS commander in Syria

Judge's gavel in a courtroom, stack of law books. (wp paarz/Flickr)

A former St. Louis man who supplied equipment to a St. Louis County man who fought and died for the Islamic State in Syria was sentenced Thursday to eight years in federal prison.

Ramiz Zijad Hodzic, 45, recruited a handful of his fellow Bosnian immigrants to help Abdullah Ramo Pazara, who lived in St. Louis County until he left for Syria in 2013. Hodzic sent cash and surplus U.S. military uniforms, combat boots, other military surplus gear, tactical gear, range finders and rifle scopes to third parties in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere from 2013 to 2015, prosecutors have said.

Hodzic lawyer Diane Dragan asked U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry to sentence her client to the 56 months he’d already spent in local jails awaiting the resolution of his case. She said Hodzic mostly sent Pazara the things that Hodzic had valued while fighting in the Bosnian war, like socks. She said Hodzic has made it clear to his children that he does not support the Islamic State, Sharia law or the subjugation of women. She also cited Hodzic’s award of the Golden Lily, Bosnia’s highest military honor. She also said he’s never spoken negatively about America.

“He is an individual who loves the United States,” she said.

Dragan said that Hodzic “loved Abdullah like a brother.”

“He mentored him from a drug addict to sobriety,” she added, but also acknowledged that at some point Pazara “changed” while in Syria.

In a videotaped statement, Hodzic said he went to war at 17, after fleeing his town and responding to a call for volunteers, according to a transcript. He manned a trench wearing jeans and an Adidas T-shirt, sharing a gun until donors supplied uniforms and weapons. He said without that aid, they would have lost the war.

He said Pazara complained of the same lack of uniforms and weapons when he arrived in Syria, and Hodzic sent help to protect women and children. He also said Pazara told him not to believe the news about what was happening in Syria.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Drake said Hodzic was the “architect and organizer” of the conspiracy to supply Pazara. Drake said that Hodzic knew that Pazara was an Islamic State commander, responsible for up to 250 troops, and knew that Pazara had boasted of murder, beheadings and supporting slavery.

“What Pazara did in Syria was horrible,” Drake said. Drake did not ask for a specific prison sentence.

Perry called the case difficult and complicated, saying that federal sentencing guidelines, including terrorism enhancements, overstated the seriousness of Hodzic’s crimes by recommending 30 years in prison. She pointed out that Pazara would have faced the same sentence, had he also been a defendant.

After announcing the eight-year sentence, she said she believed Hodzic had reformed while in jail, and learned his lesson.

Hodzic has agreed to be deported after his release from prison.

He pleaded guilty in April to one count of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and one count of providing material support to terrorists.

Five of the original six defendants in the case have pleaded guilty in federal court, including Hodzic’s wife, Sedina Unkic Hodzic, who has not yet been sentenced.

In August, Armin Harcevic, then 41, was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for the same charges as Ramiz Hodzic. Harcevic donated $1,500, saying at his hearing that he thought he was helping Bosnians who had gone to Syria to protect civilians.

Jasminka Ramic, who pleaded guilty in 2015 to a lesser conspiracy charge, was sentenced to three years in prison and has already been released.

Mediha Medy Salkicevic, of Schiller Park, Illinois, was sentenced in June to six and a half years in prison after she pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. She admitted sending money to Hodzic.

Nihad Rosic, of Utica, New York, has pleaded not guilty to charges.


© 2019 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch