A U.S. court has taken six years off the prison sentence of Mohamad Khweis, the first American to be convicted in a jury trial of joining the Islamic State.
Khweis, 32, has been in custody since March 2016 and was convicted in June 2017 for a weapons charge and for providing material support to terrorists. His term was reduced from 20 years to 14 years during a new sentencing hearing on Tuesday.
In December 2015, Khweis traveled to Islamic State-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria and managed to acquire an official Islamic State membership card. Months later, he left and gave himself up to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals discarded his weapons charge in 2020 and called for a new sentencing hearing.
Judge Liam O’Grady noted on Tuesday that the defendant “deserved credit for his good conduct in custody,” but he found assessing Khweis challenging because he was swiftly radicalized and also seemingly had no issues lying during his 2017 trial, The Washington Post reported.
“I don’t know what your inner thoughts are,” O’Grady was quoted as saying.
In their argument to have Khweis retain his 20-year sentence, prosecutors mentioned “the need for deterrence in a high-profile terrorism case.”
They also reminded the judge of Khweis’ actions, as there was evidence provided during his trial which showed that he had looked after wounded fighters at safe houses and also volunteered to be a suicide bomber.
Additionally, Khweis had confessed to burning his laptop and several phones. Prior to leaving the Islamic State, he deleted contact information from his device.
During the Tuesday trial, he apologized for his actions and renounced his loyalty and ties to the Islamic State once more.
“It’s still mind-boggling to me that I made this terrible decision,” Khweis was quoted as saying.
Lawyer Jessica Carmichael noted her client’s conduct in prison, stating that he made a significant effort to demonstrate how much he has grown since being found guilty.
Carmichael told the judge that they intend to send a message via the new sentence, particularly to “the people he left behind in prison. We want to encourage others to engage in this type of rehabilitation, to not wallow in self-pity.”
Khweis, who grew up in northern Virginia, was a Metro Access bus driver for disabled passengers before leaving for the Islamic State. He had reportedly requested to be released with time served.