PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A former high school honors student who led a double life online, aiding Muslim extremists overseas, has helped the U.S. pursue terrorists since his 2011 arrest but remains a risk, federal prosecutors said in court filings.
Mohammad Hassan Khalid, 20, of suburban Baltimore, was expected to be sentenced Tuesday in Philadelphia, but his hearing was postponed while the defense seeks further mental-health evaluations. He is the rare person ever detained as a juvenile on federal terrorism charges.
Khalid, who was born in Pakistan, met a lonely Pennsylvania woman named Colleen LaRose online when he was 15. She called herself “Jihad Jane,” and sought help for jihadists. LaRose, 50, of Pennsburg, Pa., was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for agreeing to kill a cartoonist who offended Muslims.
Khalid had agreed to help her get a stolen passport to terror suspects overseas, and frequently translated jihadist propaganda into English before reposting it, the government said in a sentencing memo.
“He appeared to be a polite and studious 15-year-old whose parents moved to the United States from Pakistan to give him a better life. However, in the anonymous world of online communications, Khalid was … translating extremist online postings and organizing a terrorist cell,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said in the memo filed last week.
Their online contacts were affiliated with the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an al-Qaida offshoot, the government said.
Khalid’s attorney, Jeffrey Lindy, called Khalid an inquisitive adolescent who experimented with “different belief structures,” while acknowledging that what he did was wrong. However, he faults the government for not placing Khalid three years ago in a secure juvenile facility where he would have gotten mental health treatment. Instead, he has been in an adult prison since turning 18.
“If they’re concerned about (him), they have nobody to blame but themselves,” Lindy said.
Authorities fear that both Khalid and LaRose remain vulnerable to persuasion. They had asked that LaRose be put away for decades.
“(Even) while cooperating so diligently with the government, Khalid seemed still to take pleasure and even pride recounting his glory days as a jihadi. … At times, his demeanor indicated that he still may feel a begrudging pride in all he was able to accomplish despite his young age,” Williams wrote. “The government has concerns about whether he might be re-radicalized.”
They acknowledge that Khalid has helped with global terrorism investigations since his arrest, including the indictment of co-defendant Ali Charaf Damache, an Algerian who remains jailed in Ireland, fighting extradition. They have asked for a lengthy sentence, but, given his plea and cooperation, less than the 15-year maximum for aiding and abetting terrorism.
The memo reveals that Khalid continued aiding his contacts even after the FBI tried to intervene in the spring of 2010. Khalid, who had earned a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University before his senior year arrest, “simply obtained a new computer, hacked into someone else’s internet connection, and started up his jihadi activity once again,” the government memo said.
Another woman involved in the case, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez of Colorado, is expected to be sentenced on Wednesday. Briefly married to Damache in Ireland, she also faces a 15-year maximum sentence.