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21-Year-Old Indian American Sentenced to Prison in Chicago for helping Islamic State (ISIS) Terror Organisation

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Indian Muslims in Kolkata are seen condemning Islamic State as an enemy of Islam and Muslims, in Kolkata, India, Dec. 5, 2015. (Photo - S. Azizur Rahman/VOA)

New York, Nov 20, 2016: An Indian American man who tried to go to Syria with his teenaged brother and sister to join the Islamic State terror organisation has been sentenced in Chicago to 40 months in prison.

Mohammed Hazra Khan, 21, became on Friday the first person of Indian origin to be convicted and sentenced in the US for Islamic State connections.

The sentencing hits the news just after the victory of Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, who had called for intensive investigation of Muslim immigrants and, controversially, suggesting that if necessary their immigration should be stopped temporarily till a mechanism for heightened scrutiny was in place.

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Federal Judge John J. Tharp sentenced Khan, who had admitted in court last year to the charges of providing support to the Islamic State and trying to go abroad to join it, Mary B. McCord, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, said in a statement.

The judge in the Northern Illinois federal court also ordered that for 20 years after his release, Khan should undergo intensive supervision that includes “violent extremism counselling” and a mental health treatment programme, she added.

Khan was arrested by anti-terrorism officers two years ago while trying to leave the US from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, she said. He was 19 years old at the time of his arrest.

Khan’s brother, who was 16 years old in 2014, and sister, who was 17, were also stopped at the airport but did not face any charges and were let go after officials questioned them.

Khan is an American citizen born here. But his family had immigrated from India and lived in the Chicago area, The Chicago Tribune reported quoting his lawyer Thomas Anthony Durkin.

In a Tribune picture taken outside the courtroom, Khan’s mother, Zarine, was seen wearing a hijab and his father, Shafi, a long beard. The newspaper said that Khan wore a skullcap inside the court.

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ABCNews reported that last year, his mother had publicly asked IS leaders to “leave our children alone” and asserted: “The venom spewed by these groups and the violence committed by them find no support in the Quran and are completely at odds with our Islamic faith.”

Durkin told the judge that Khan did not intend to wage a jihad against the US but was naive and only wanted to join an Islamic caliphate and live according to Muslim doctrine, according to the Tribune.

Tharp did not buy the argument. The Tribune reported that the judge said: “Mr. Khan set off to join and aid a terrorist organization that believes it is appropriate, indeed believes it is holy, to kill anyone who disagrees with its religious dogma.”

Tharp referred to the behaviour of the Islamic State and told Khan that “instead of a public beheading, you have been given a public trial,” ABCNews reported.

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Khan could have been sentenced to 15 years, but the prosecutors asked for only five years because he had cooperated in other prosecutions and the judge gave the even more lenient sentence of 40 months.

With the two years he spent in custody and remission for good behaviour, he would eligible to be free to join college next year, ABCNews said.

The Tribune said that according to prosecutors, Khan helped with investigations against an Islamic State fighter and recruiters and had also offered to testify against a British Islamic State recruiter, Mizanur Rahman. (IANS)

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Islamic State Using Women, Children as Human Shields to Postpone Defeat

In the meantime, U.S. officials have been talking with other members of the coalition about increasing their help as U.S. troops prepare to leave.

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FILE - U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters sit atop a hill in the desert outside the village of Baghuz, Syria, Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

Fighters and families with the Islamic State terror group are clinging to one last sliver of land next to the Euphrates River in Syria, using women, children and possible hostages as human shields in an effort to postpone defeat.

Human rights observers and officials with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces say IS followers have been pushed out of the eastern Syrian village of Baghuz and taken refuge in what they describe as a collection of tents. Various officials have described the size of the camps as covering less than one square kilometer.

But efforts by the SDF to deal a final defeat to the terror group’s self-declared caliphate have been slowed due to the presence of the civilians, and efforts to negotiate a surrender have also gone nowhere.

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President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden at the White House, Feb. 15, 2019. VOA

Speaking at the White House on Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump said, “We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate and that’ll be announced over the next 24 hours and many other things.”

In Munich, the top U.S. defense official offered a cautious assessment.

“We have eliminated the group’s hold on over 99 percent of the territory it once claimed as part of its so-called caliphate,” acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan said during a Friday news conference with his German counterpart at the Munich Security Conference.

“We have ensured ISIS no longer holds the innocent people of Syria or Iraq in their murderous, iron fist,” he said, using an acronym for the terror group. “We have destroyed its ability to mass forces, and we have eliminated most of its leadership and significantly diminished its resources.”

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FILE – Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan holds a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

‘Despicable and ghastly acts’

Coalition officials Thursday described SDF efforts in and around Baghuz as “clearance operations,” warning that IS fighters had become so desperate that they were shooting at their wives and children as they sought to flee.

“These utterly despicable and ghastly acts further illustrate their barbaric nature and desperation,” Operation Inherent Resolve Deputy Commander, British Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, said in a statement.

“The end of the physical caliphate is at hand,” he added.

Some IS followers appear to have given up.

Monitors with the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said about 240 IS fighters surrendered this past week. The U.S.-led coalition and an SDF commander contacted by VOA could not confirm the claim.

They said the SDF also evacuated about 700 people, mostly women and children, from the terror group’s refuge outside Baghuz on Thursday, taking them by cars and trucks to secured areas away from the front.

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FILE – Women and children fleeing from the last Islamic State group’s tiny pocket in Syria sit in the back of a truck near Baghuz, eastern Syria, Feb. 11, 2019. VOA

The SDF itself says over the past several weeks, tens of thousands of civilians have fled from IS.

But they say about 300 hardened IS fighters, many of them foreign, still remain, willing to fight to the death. And some SDF commanders say more civilians are being brought to the tent city, apparently from underground tunnels.

Observers late Thursday reported a resumption of shelling by the SDF and coalition forces, saying it appeared to be another attempt to convince the remaining IS holdouts to give up.

IS threat to remain

Still, even once the last pocket of IS-held territory is taken, U.S. and coalition officials warn the fight will not be over.

Top U.S. military officials have warned the terror group still has 20,000 to 30,000 followers, including fighters, spread across Syria and Iraq. And they worry about the ability of their Syrian partners, in particular, to keep IS in check once U.S. troops withdraw under plans announced by Trump.

The commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, Central Command Commander Gen. Joseph Votel, told CNN on Friday he disagreed with Trump’s decision to call for U.S. forces to leave.

 

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FILE – U.S. Gen. Joseph Votel, top U.S. commander in the Middle East, speaks to reporters during an unannounced visit to a military outpost in southern Syria, Oct. 22, 2018. VOA

“It would not have been my military advice at that particular time. … I would not have made that suggestion, frankly,” he said. “[The caliphate] still has leaders, still has fighters, it still has facilitators, it still has resources, so our continued military pressure is necessary to continue to go after that network.”

In the meantime, U.S. officials have been talking with other members of the coalition about increasing their help as U.S. troops prepare to leave. But so far, other coalition members, many of whom have no troops on the ground in Syria, have been unwilling to make any specific commitments.

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“I think there’s a tremendous desire to have a security arrangement or mechanism that doesn’t result in a security vacuum. What that is … is still being developed,” a senior defense official said Friday on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

“We’ve been pretty clear that this is going to be a deliberate withdrawal,” the official added. “There’s a timeline associated with that that’s conditions-based. We’ve said publicly on a number of occasions that it will be here in months, not weeks and not years.” (VOA)