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Accused ISIS supporter gets 5 years on firearm charges

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

An accused ISIS sympathizer from Dearborn Heights was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison on federal firearm charges.

In sentencing Khalil Abu Rayyan above federal guidelines, which called for 15 to 21 months in prison, U.S. District George Caram Steeh said he wanted to send a message that the “first steps” toward terrorism or other violent crimes “carry serious consequences.”

Steeh noted a long list of alleged statements and actions by Rayyan that led authorities to believe he planned ISIS-type terror attacks, including downloading an image of an ISIS fighter holding the severed head of a woman and saying, “if I can’t do jihad in the Middle East I will do it over here.”

Steeh said giving Rayyan less time behind bars could pose a risk to the public and noted Rayyan’s alleged discussions with an undercover FBI employee in which he expressed support for ISIS and his “intentions to do an ISIL-like attack.”

The judge said Rayyan’s blaming his “obsession with ISIS” on depression and his heavy use of marijuana “does not alleviate the court’s concern of a real risk” of harm to the public if he is released soon.

Steeh dismissed Rayyan’s assertions that his actions were protected by the First Amendment, saying, “This is not merely posting or viewing an ISIS video. This is serious conduct.”

The judge noted Rayyan’s purchase of “military” type firearms, target practice with the weapons and statements that he wanted to murder a police officer in the hospital and shoot up a Detroit church.

Steeh said Rayyan’s crime “ is a matter of seriousness.”

Rayyan, 22, is accused of posting Internet messages about wanting to “skin people like sheep” and shoot up a Detroit church. The alleged posts have raised questions about whether Rayyan was helping to plot a terrorist act. He pleaded guilty to two firearm charges in September.

“I never intended to hurt anyone,” the Muslim man told Steeh during a hearing last week. “My behavior caused embarrassment to myself, my family, my community and my religion.”

Rayyan has said he was an “ignorant, immature, naive kid” and has matured since being arrested by the FBI last year and pleading guilty to federal crimes.

Rayyan’s case came to light in February 2016 as increased concerns about homegrown terrorism spread across the U.S. amid a string of terrorist attacks in several American cities.

His defense attorney, Todd Shanker wrote in a sentencing memo last month that Rayyan “fully and completely” understands why the FBI targeted him and why officials were concerned about his threatening remarks and behavior, especially the social media posts and statements supporting ISIS.

Shanker did not say anything during Thursday’s hearing about Rayyan’s sentence and family members who were in court declined to comment.

Steeh ordered mental health and substance abuse treatment for Rayyan, saying “it improves the chance the defendant can be safely released in the future.”

After serving five years in prison, Rayyan will have supervised released for three years, during which his computer access will be limited and monitored. He has been in federal detention for 13 months.

Rayyan was living with his parents and siblings and worked for his dad’s pizza business when he was arrested.

(313) 222-2027

Robert Snell contributed.