Some of the headlines and commentary I’ve seen surrounding this story have been hyperbolic to say the least. He’s only a kid! Or even worse, now we’re sending people to prison for using Twitter! The bottom line is that a 17 year old in Virginia is on his way to prison for quite a while after providing support to ISIS and there’s more to the story than just a few tweets. (Yahoo News)
A Virginia teenager who had pleaded guilty to online support of the militant group Islamic State was sentenced to just over 11 years in federal prison on Friday, the U.S. Justice Department said.
Ali Amin, 17, of Manassas, was the first minor prosecuted by the United States in such a case. U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton handed down a 136-month sentence in a hearing in Alexandria, Virginia, the department said in a statement.
Amin pleaded guilty in June to using Twitter and his blog to provide instructions on how to use the virtual currency Bitcoin to send funds to the militants.
That last sentence in the brief press release was the first one which caught my attention originally and I can see how some people got up in arms. It was being portrayed as a free speech issue in some corners of the web, where the kid was just publishing some instructions on how to transfer Bitcoin funds and places to find your neighborhood terrorist enclave who could use your donations. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that it’s pretty odious to do even that, those tweets weren’t the entirety of the story by a long shot.
In addition to those helpful hints on social media, Amin was also found to have materially aided another wannabe terrorist, 18-year-old Reza Niknejad, his his efforts to travel to Syria. He additionally provided written instructions as to who Niknejad should meet up with upon his arrival to go and fight for the bad guys. Amin has admitted to all of this now and by this point the help that he was providing seems to clearly have crossed the line from free speech to assisting our enemies in their fight against us.
As to Amin’s age, I don’t see where that’s really a factor. Seventeen is the age of majority for many things in the United States already so treating him like a child is a bit of a stretch in the first place. Besides, we try people significantly younger than him as adults for other crimes on a regular basis. In October we’re going to be putting two 13 year old girls on trial for the so called “Slender Man stabbing” and they will face the court as adults. (Just for the record, I personally think that one might be a bit of a stretch, though the young girls clearly seem to be pretty darned evil.)
Ali Amin may be seventeen, but he’s a man. He decided to man up, take sides, and help out the monsters of ISIS. The fact that he’s getting off with a relatively light prison sentence of roughly twelve years and court supervision after that is probably better than he should have been able to hope for. (His lawyers had asked for six years, which would have been an insult to the entire country.) Perhaps if this trial gets a bit more exposure around the country there will be some “disaffected youth” out there who will think more seriously before getting involved in things such as this.