WASHINGTON — Shortly after 9 a.m., Ali Shukri Amin was escorted by prison guards into room 800 in the Alexandria federal courthouse.
Almost two dozen family members listened nervously as the sentencing hearing proceeded. His mother, stepfather, grandmother and a host of other relatives and friends sat quietly. The 17-year-old honor student was about to go to prison. They just didn’t for how long.
One family member broke down and cried as Amin’s defense attorney, Joseph Flood, made his case for leniency.
The skinny, baby-faced boy sat quietly in a prison jumpsuit, occasionally rubbing the back of his neck where the suit scratched against it.
Flood asked Hilton for a sentence of 75 months, claiming Amin was a victim of the effects of dopamine on a teenage brain. Flood accused prosecutors of “overstating” the impact of Amin’s actions.
In contrast, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ben’Ary painted a picture of a “bright and articulate” teenager who was well aware of what he was doing. Ben’Ary said Amin avoided being radicalized, “but he radicalized others” and effectively “sentenced 18-year-old Reza Niknejad to death” by helping him join the Islamic State in the Levant and Iraq (ISIL) and go to Syria. Ben’Ary said those who join ISIL in Syria will most likely die fighting.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Dana Boente said in June that Niknejad made it to Syria.
Amin admitted that he helped Niknejad of Prince William County travel to Syria to join the group in January. FBI Assistant Director Andrew McCabe said that after taking Niknejad to the airport, Amin delivered a letter and thumb drive to Niknejad’s family informing them that they would likely never see him again.
Charges against Niknejad were also unsealed in June in Alexandria, alleging he conspired to provide material support to terrorists and conspired to kill and injure people abroad.
Amin admitted to using Twitter (through his handle @Amreekiwitness) to provide advice and encouragement to the Islamic State and its supporters in a statement of facts filed with the plea agreement. Amreeki translates to “American.” Amin provided instruction on how to use Bitcoin, a virtual currency, to mask funds going to the group. He also helped supporters seeking to travel to Syria to fight with the group, court documents said.
“I don’t expect any sympathy.” Amin said, addressing the court. He also pledged to make amends to his family and community.
Citing Amin’s age and lack of a prison record, Hilton sentenced him to 136 months at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina. At the end of the term, he will be subjected to a period of supervised release.