Federal prosecutors in the United States said on Friday that a Pakistani doctor who had expressed an interest in “fighting on the frontline” for the Islamic State group had been sentenced to 18 years in prison.
The Rochester, Minnesota doctor, Muhammad Masood, 31, pled guilty to trying to give material support to a terrorist organisation last year in U.S. District Court in St. Paul.
Prosecutors said that Mr. Masood had discussed with government informants his intention to either carry out “lone wolf attacks” in the United States or to go to the Middle East to fight with ISIS as a combat medic.
After Mr. Masood serves his time in prison, U.S. District Judge Paul A. Magnuson ordered him to serve five years of supervised release.
Prosecutors allege that Mr. Masood, who worked at a Rochester research facility, was stopped in March 2020 at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport before he could catch a trip to Los Angeles, where he would have boarded a cargo ship to go to the Middle East and join the terrorist organisation.
Mr. Masood’s attorney, Jordan Kushner, described the sentence as “extremely harsh” in a phone interview on Friday, citing his client’s history of mental illness.
While testifying in court, Mr. Kushner made reference to a psychiatrist’s study that found Mr. Masood’s acts should be interpreted “not as an act of commitment to violent extremism and the aims of ISIS, but as an effect of his mental illness and multiple stressors.”
In court documents, prosecutors said that Mr. Masood “chose a path to become a soldier and combat medic for a terrorist organisation” despite his impressive resume, and requested the judge to impose the maximum sentence of 20 years in jail.
After learning that Mr. Masood had posted a request for assistance with “making hijra” on an encrypted social media network in January 2020, officials started investigating him. The word is often used in Islamic State circles to refer to visits to areas under ISIS control for the aim of “violent jihad,” as stated in an affidavit submitted by the FBI.
Mr Masood has a medical licence in his home country of Pakistan and had been residing in the United States since 2018 on an H-1B visa.
Prosecutors claim that he met two government informants on the secure social network and mistook them for Islamic State militants who would assist him join the group.
According to the affidavit, Mr. Masood told the informants that he was “sick” of residing in the United States and that he had entertained thoughts of committing lone wolf terrorist acts.
In the end, Mr. Masood said he belonged on the front lines as “a combat medic… and also fight,” as stated in the affidavit. Prosecutors claim he planned to enter Syria in March 2020 by travelling from Chicago to Jordan, but his plans were derailed when Jordan closed its borders due to the coronavirus outbreak.
According to the investigators, Mr. Masood instead booked a trip from Minnesota to Los Angeles. He was taken into custody by federal investigators at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport on March 19, 2020.