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Man accused of trying to help militants to stay in prison

FILE - This undated file photo shows Basit Sheikh. Sheikh, who the government sought to prosecute as an example to others considering joining militant fighters in Syria, was sentenced Thursday, Nov. 29, to spend another two years in federal prison. (The News & Observer via AP, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina man who the government sought to prosecute as an example to others considering joining militant fighters in Syria was sentenced Thursday to spend another two years in federal prison.

U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle sentenced Basit Sheikh to the maximum term under a guilty plea agreement he struck with prosecutors in August, news outlets reported. Sheikh has spent five years in federal custody since his November 2013 arrest at Raleigh’s airport on his way to the Middle East.

Sheikh’s guilty plea also could cause the Pakistan native with permanent, legal U.S. residency to be kicked out of the country.

Sheikh pleaded guilty to providing material support to a terrorist group by planning to join al-Qaida-linked fighters. Authorities said he expressed interest in online conversations with FBI agents or informants in joining the group Jabhat al-Nusra, which was fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s troops.

Sheikh was among the first Americans arrested as part of the FBI’s effort to find eager war fighters before they could join Muslim terrorist groups in Syria and perhaps later return home full of anti-American ideology.

The case was also unusual because Sheikh was forcibly medicated for schizophrenia by government doctors so he could be competent to defend himself against prosecution. A federal appeals court ruled in 2016 that Sheikh should be forcibly injected with anti-psychotic medication so he could stand trial.

There were about 110 forcible medication cases considered by federal courts nationwide in the 13 years after a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that restricted involuntary medication to certain serious criminal cases, according to research by Georgetown University law professor Susan McMahon. Courts approved the motions almost two-thirds of the time, according to McMahon.

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