Ex-National Guard Member From Virginia Sentenced to 11 Years for Terrorism After Supporting ISIS - NBC4 Washington

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Ex-National Guard Member From Virginia Sentenced to 11 Years for Terrorism After Supporting ISIS

Sterling man traveled to Africa to join the Islamic State before ultimately backing out.

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    Ex-National Guard Member From Virginia Sentenced to 11 Years for Terrorism After Supporting ISIS
    Bill Hennessy
    Mohamed Jalloh and his attorney. (File sketch by Bill Hennessy)

    A former National Guardsman from Virginia was sentenced to 11 years in prison on a terrorism charge.

    Mohamed Jalloh of Sterling pleaded guilty in October to attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group after admitting he traveled to Africa and boarded a truck to join the Islamic State group before ultimately bailing out.

    "I'm sorry to the court, to the people and to the U.S. military," Jalloh said in court, with his family present.

    The case originated from an FBI sting operation. After his arrest, though, Jalloh admitted he made his own contact with the group before he had ever been introduced to the FBI informant, contact the government had been unaware of at the time.

    Jalloh, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Sierra Leone, traveled to Africa with his father in 2015. While there, he met an Islamic State recruiter. In August 2015, Jalloh went to Sierra Leone to stay with the group's facilitator. He intended to travel to Libya to join the Islamic State, but the plans fell through.

    Later that year, Jalloh traveled to Niger, again with the intent of joining the group. That time, he went so far as to get on a truck with other recruits to trek across the Sahara to Libya. But, in court papers, Jalloh described how he got cold feet and sneaked off the truck after 18 hours.

    “Guys in the truck would whip people with a hose to pack you in,” Jalloh said, describing his experience as a recruit. “This was the worst, most scary situation that I had ever been in as an adult.”

    Before returning to the U.S., Jalloh made contact online with an ISIS operative named Abu Saad Sudani, who put Jalloh in contact with a person he hoped would help Jalloh carry out an attack in the U.S. But that person turned out to be a government informant.

    In conversations with the informant, Jalloh discussed carrying out a Fort Hood-style attack. He also sent hundreds of dollars to an undercover FBI employee he believed was an ISIS member. He also told the informant he decided not to re-enlist with the Virginia Army National Guard after listening to lectures by deceased al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki online.

    Jalloh's lawyers described his interest in the Islamic State group as a “flirtation” that stemmed from a difficult childhood in war-torn Sierra Leone that left him with little parental guidance. When Jalloh met with the informant, his goal was to be set up with a Muslim woman he could marry, but the informant continually steered the conversation to violence, his lawyers said.

    The FBI arrested Jalloh July 3, the day after he test-fired and bought an assault rifle at Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, Virginia. But the gun dealership made the rifle inoperable before Jalloh left the dealership, following the FBI's instructions.

    In court papers, Jalloh renounces the Islamic State group.

    “I feel like a complete idiot for accepting such a superficial and dishonest interpretation of Islam,” Jalloh wrote in a letter to the court.

    “I did not intend to cause harm to anyone,” he said Friday.

    Prosecutors asked for a 20-year sentence, while the defense sought fewer than seven years.

    "This offense is clearly troubling," Judge Liam O'Grady said. "You were willing to take steps to support ISIL. After serving six years in the National Guard, it's hard to understand."

    Jalloh is one of more than 100 people in the U.S. to be charged with terror offenses connected to the Islamic State since 2014, according to George Washington University's Extremism Tracker, and one of seven from the northern Virginia area alone to be charged in the past two years.