A 24-year-old Brooklyn, New York, man who transcribed Osama bin Laden videos on his MySpace page was sentenced to 27 years in prison for conspiring to commit murder overseas and supporting terrorism.
U.S. District Judge John Gleeson in Brooklyn sentenced Betim Kaziu today. In July, a jury convicted him on four counts, including an attempt to provide support to a terrorist organization overseas.
“You grew up in Brooklyn and you decided to murder your own country’s soldiers,” Gleeson said. “You admired Osama bin Laden.”
Kaziu, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in Kosovo in 2009. While traveling in Cairo, Kaziu sought to join Al-Shabaab, a group fighting to overthrow the government in Somalia, U.S. prosecutors said. He tried to travel to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan and sought to buy an AK-47 on the black market, the U.S. said. He was also seeking to attack NATO troops in Kosovo, where some U.S. troops were stationed, according to prosecutors.
“I’m already changed -- almost three years in jail is enough,” Kaziu told Gleeson before he was sentenced. “I regret a lot of things I did in the past and I just want to go back home.”
Kaziu, who has been in custody since his arrest, said that while he “may have had certain radical thoughts or opinions” but he never acted on them.
Kaziu had asked for a sentence “significantly below” the nonbinding guideline of life in prison, in part because no one was injured from his crimes and because of his “age and lack of sophistication.” Prosecutors said the punishment should be “at or near” life. The U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System recommended 30 years, according to court papers.
“The only thing that stopped Mr. Kaziu was United States and Kosovo law enforcement,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Shreve Ariail told Gleeson today. “There’s no indication that he’s anything but a committed jihadist.”
Joshua L. Dratel, a lawyer for Kaziu, declined to comment on the sentence.
Sulejmah Hadzovic, whom the U.S. called Kaziu’s best friend, testified that the two men traveled to Cairo and wanted to wage jihad overseas, possibly in Somalia, before Hadzovic abandoned the idea and returned to the U.S. in May 2009.
Kaziu and Hadzovic, neighbors in Brooklyn who met when Kaziu was in the sixth grade, were first-generation Americans whose parents came from the former Yugoslavia.
Closing arguments in the trial focused on whether Kaziu’s MySpace page and his contacts and travel overseas were evidence of a conspiracy.
His avatar on the page, “Sayf-UL-iSLAM,” showed a figure in military fatigues with a saber. Under the alias Abdul Wahab Al-Albani, Kaziu’s postings included lines such as “Angry at the Kuffar,” or disbeliever.
He posted films including one of a crying U.S. soldier, and an interview with Osama bin Laden from 2008.
U.S. prosecutors said Kaziu had taken Osama Bin Laden’s words and rebroadcast them as his own and disseminated messages from Anwar al-Awlaki on his MySpace page. In September, a missile from a U.S. drone killed Al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Islamic cleric who masterminded the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airplane in 2009. Bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in May in a private residence in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
“From the moment you were arrested there was good reason to believe you were ready, willing and able to kill for jihad,” Gleeson told Kaziu today. “You’ve dedicated your young life to the cause of destroying this country and all that it stands for.”
The case is U.S. v. Kaziu, 09-cr-660, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
To contact the reporters on this story: Thom Weidlich in Brooklyn, New York, federal court at firstname.lastname@example.org; Tiffany Kary in New York at email@example.com.
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