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Islamic State soldier from Michigan sentenced in rare terrorism case

The passport of Ibraheem Musaibli, an ISIS soldier from Dearborn captured while fighting alongside the terror group in Syria five years ago. He was sentenced Thursday to 14 years in federal prison. (Michigan Eastern District Court/TNS)

An ISIS soldier from Dearborn captured while fighting alongside the terror group in Syria five years ago was sentenced Thursday to 14 years in federal prison.

Prosecutors sought a 35-year sentence, which is more than three times as long as the sentence sought by lawyers for Ibraheem Musaibli, who said he should have been sentenced to the mandatory minimum 10 years in prison. Musaibli, 33, has been jailed since 2018 when he was captured on a Syrian battlefield, making him one of a small group of foreign fighters brought back from overseas to face terrorism charges in the U.S.

A 14-year sentence is slightly longer than average for terrorism cases in the U.S. At least 198 people have been convicted of crimes related to the Islamic State and sentenced to an average of 13.3 years in prison, according to data compiled by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.

Musaibli was sentenced five months after jurors convicted him of providing material support to a terrorist group. Jurors spent about four hours deliberating after a nine-day trial before convicting Musaibli of all three charges against him. That includes conspiring to provide material support and receiving military-type training from ISIS. The two terrorism-related charges could have sent Musaibli to prison for 50 years.

“His trial gave an eye-opening window into the inner workings of ISIS and how it used Americans in its terror group,” said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism. “While the prison sentence is shorter than what the government requested, it’s generally on par with sentencing…for other similar convicted American terrorists who traveled to Syria.”

U.S. District Judge David Lawson also ordered Musaibli to serve 10 years of supervised release.

“This defendant chose to join a brutal, foreign terrorist organization and then to fight against the United States,” U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison said in a statement. “For his betrayal of our nation and his fellow citizens, he is deserving of a long sentence.”

Memorandums filed in federal court portray starkly different portraits of the son of a perfume shop owner who became radicalized by watching lectures by Anwar al-Awlaki. Musaibli stole his pregnant wife’s jewelry, abandoned his family, traveled to Syria, swore allegiance to ISIS, fired an assault rifle on the battlefield and fought U.S. and coalition forces, prosecutors said.

“To this day, Musaibli has neither taken responsibility for serving ISIS as a foreign fighter nor shown remorse for his actions,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Hank Moon and Michael Martin wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

Musaibli is among at least 27 Americans who have been captured alive in Syria and Iraq in recent years. Musaibli and at least nine others have been charged with terrorism crimes since 2020 and accused of supporting ISIS.

The sentence is shorter than others issued to people convicted after traveling overseas to support ISIS. Emraan Ali, a U.S. citizen with ties to Florida who joined ISIS in Syria, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison in April. A Virginia man, Mohamad Jamal Khweis, also was sentenced to 20 years in 2017 after joining ISIS in Iraq.

An Indiana woman, Samantha Marie Elhassani, was sentenced in 2020 to more than six years for financing terrorism after being repatriated from Syria aboard the same military flight as Musaibli.

Prosecutors used Musaibli’s own words against him in calling for the decades-long sentence, quoting a comment he made in 2016: “I will never give up jihad even if my kids have to beg on the streets and I have to eat leaves from tree. …”

In requesting a 10-year sentence, Musaibli’s lawyers characterized him as a man with cognitive and developmental challenges who failed to live up to his ideal as that of a committed Muslim man.

Musaibli was not a leader or a committed radical, his lawyers argued. Instead, he “was manipulated by propaganda into traveling to Syria to help women and children,” defense lawyer James Gerometta wrote.

“Rather than a committed radical, he ran from fights and violence,” the lawyer wrote. “He sought (ISIS) charity and, rather than asking what he could do for (ISIS), asked what (ISIS) could do for him. Similarly, even when praising (ISIS) in some communications, he condemned attacks on civilians; those were not the true mujahedeen and such attacks were sinful.

“He has, and always will be, susceptible to manipulation and easily influenced,” Gerometta added.

Musaibli’s family mounted an attempt to minimize his prison sentence. His parents, siblings, wife and ex-wife — who prosecutors say was abandoned when the Dearborn man left to join ISIS — described the father-of-four as a kind, loving, charitable, peaceful man who as a child was so delicate he would cry at the sight of violence.

“My husband (Ibraheem) was and still is a good-hearted and tender man,” wife Arzaq Saleh wrote to the judge. “My life with him was (like) a dream, because it was short, but like paradise.”


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