COLUMBUS, Ohio – A lower prison sentence is appropriate for an Ohio man who tried to help the Islamic State group, a lawyer argued for a June 7 sentencing, entry of the defendant’s youth, his remorse and his mental health struggles.
At issue in the case of Aaron Daniels of Columbus, who pleaded guilty last July to a charge accusing him of attempting to travel to Libya to join the group.
Attorney George Chaney asked for a sentence of two years and five years of supervision afterwards in a court filing last month.
Daniels, now 21, did well in high school until he began to suffer from schizophrenia, and was struck by the illness when he online communicate with extremists, Chaney said. Daniels initially looked for sponsorship to help him with his goal to be an Islamic scholar, but was subsequently exploited by the extremists trying to radicalize American youth, a May 11 court filing said.
Online recruitment of young people to join Islamic State is an ongoing issue and concern for the authorities in the US and elsewhere.
That extremists “exploited his fragile mental state and damaged his desire to the religion of Islam in a heroic way,” Chaney said. Daniels “eternally sorry and ashamed that he was part of the planning of these actions do not to this day believe that he is so far as it did.”
The authorities say that Daniels wired $250 to an Islamic State by force in January 2016, to a Beirut intermediary for the now-deceased Islamic State recruiter, and attack planner Abu Isa Al-Amriki, and told a secret informant he was interested in traveling to commit violence abroad.
The complaint said at different times Daniels, who went by the aliases Harun Muhammad and Abu Yusuf, interested in travelling to Afghanistan and Syria to wage war before he focused on Libya.
Daniels also worked with a man who has a February 2016 machete attack on a Columbus restaurant in the hands of an Israeli. In that incident, Mohamed Barry and wounded four people before he fled and then was fatally shot by police when he ran at them with the weapon.
The FBI said that they could find no evidence that the attack was orchestrated terrorism. In the aftermath, Daniels relayed news of the attack to an undercover informant “in an approving fashion,” prosecutors said in a May 29 court filing.
In June 2016, Daniels told a secret informant he wanted to go to the Islamic State territory in Libya “, so I could get the support of the jihad,” according to a criminal complaint against Daniels.
Daniels was arrested in Columbus as he prepared to fly to Libya via Houston and Trinidad.
Federal prosecutors acknowledge Daniel’s psychological problems, although they say that there is also evidence that Daniels is exaggerating his psychological problems. A term of imprisonment of at least 15 years to 17, with life-long surveillance, is the appropriate punishment, they say.
Daniels “had enough clarity of mind to lie to the police to deflect attention from himself when need be, and deceiving them about his true intentions,” prosecutors say.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.