SANTA ANA (AP) — A judge on Monday sentenced an Orange County man to 15 years in prison and supervised release for life after he acknowledged trying to aid and join the Islamic State terror group in Syria.
The case against Adam Dandach, 22, is one in a series involving young men in states ranging from California to Georgia who have been charged with trying to assist Islamic State and other terrorist groups.
Dandach, an Orange County native, pleaded guilty last year to attempting to provide material support to a terror group and lying on his passport application. His lawyer said Dandach could have been given an 80-year prison term if he had been convicted at trial.
Federal prosecutors had sought a 20-year sentence for Dandach, who authorities said had videos of executions and decapitations by terrorists stored on his computer. He also had encouraged terrorist beliefs in online chatrooms and continued to write violent poetry even from jail, authorities said.
“To this day he is making deliberate choices to continue to support this violent and horrific terrorist organization,” Celeste Corlett, an assistant U.S. attorney, said in court before sentencing.
Before ordering the sentence, U.S. District Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana called Dandach’s conduct “serious” and said terrorist activity in any form is a threat to the United States and other countries.
A thin Dandach appeared in court wearing shackles and a tan jail jumpsuit and said he had dissociated himself from the person he used to be.
“Pardon me for my poor judgment,” he told the court. “I believe it should be understood that I am just a hollow shell of what I used to be.”
Dandach’s mother sobbed in the courtroom during the hearing.
Dandach had praised terrorists and promoted their lectures and videos online before planning to go to Syria, federal prosecutors said. After Dandach’s mother took his passport to keep him from traveling abroad, he lied to get a replacement — saying he had accidentally tossed out his old passport — then booked a trip for July 2014.
He was stopped at John Wayne Airport by FBI agents who found his smartphone loaded with jihadi songs supporting Islamic State fighters, maps of areas the group controlled, and Twitter updates on fighting by the terrorist group.
Prosecutors said Dandach told the agents he planned to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State and train with weapons to defend himself.
Defense lawyer Pal Lengyel-Leahu said his client had been treated for a spate of psychological problems including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder after suffering an abusive childhood and obesity as a teen, eventually undergoing gastric bypass surgery.
The judge said Dandach’s mental health was taken into account in his sentence.
After the hearing, Lengyel-Leahu said he thought the sentence was harsh, citing Dandach’s childhood and youth.
He said Dandach found a purpose to his life in religion and aimed to travel to a place where people shared his beliefs and do charity work, not violence. Since his arrest, he said Dandach has been upset by the group’s killing of innocent civilians, the lawyer said.
“Adam is not someone to be afraid of,” Lengyel-Leahu told the court. “Since that time, he’s matured and he’s seen what the face of evil is, and he rejects it.”
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