COLUMBUS — A reduced prison sentence is appropriate for an Ohio man who tried to help the Islamic State group, a defense attorney argued ahead of a June 7 sentencing, citing the defendant’s youth, his remorse and his mental health struggles.
At issue is 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.
Defense attorney George Chaney asked for a two-year sentence and five years of supervision afterward in a court filing last month.
Daniels, now 21, was doing well in high school until he began suffering from schizophrenia, and was affected by that illness when he was communicating online with extremists, Chaney said. Daniels initially looked for sponsorship to help him with his goal of becoming an Islamic scholar, but was then exploited by extremists trying to radicalize American youth, a May 11 court filing said.
Online recruitment of young people to join Islamic State has been an ongoing issue and concern for authorities in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Those extremists "exploited his fragile mental state and corrupted his desire to serve Islam in a heroic way," Chaney said. Daniels "is eternally sorry and ashamed that he participated in the planning of these acts, and cannot to this day believe that he let it get as far as it did."
Authorities say Daniels wired $250 to an Islamic State operative in January 2016 to a Beirut intermediary for now-deceased Islamic State recruiter and attacks planner Abu Isa Al-Amriki, and told an undercover informant he was interested in traveling to commit violence overseas.
The complaint said at various times Daniels, who went by the aliases Harun Muhammad and Abu Yusuf, expressed interest in traveling to Afghanistan and Syria to wage war before settling on Libya.
Daniels also worked with a man who carried out a February 2016 machete attack at a Columbus restaurant owned by an Israeli. In that incident, Mohamed Barry injured four people before he fled and then was fatally shot by police when he lunged at them with the weapon.
The FBI said they couldn’t find evidence 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 an undercover informant he wanted to go to Islamic State territory in Libya "so I could support the jihad there," 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 Daniels’ mental health problems, although they say there’s also evidence that Daniels is exaggerating his psychological problems. A sentence of at least 15 years and up to 17, with lifetime supervision, is the appropriate punishment, they say.
Daniels "had sufficient clarity of mind to lie to law enforcement officers in order to deflect attention from himself when necessary and deceive them about his true intentions," prosecutors say.