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Canadian man gets 20 years for helping six to join ISIS in Syria

The former San Diego resident helped six U.S. and Canadian men to travel to Syria where they died fighting for the Islamic State group.

(CN) — A Canadian man was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for helping six U.S. and Canadian citizens, including four of his cousins, travel to Syria and join the Islamic State group.

Abdullahi Ahmed Abdullahi, 37, of Edmonton, Alberta, had previously pleaded guilty to conspiring with others to provide material support to terrorists engaged in violent activities such as murder, kidnapping and maiming of persons in Syria, according to an announcement Monday from the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego.

The former San Diego resident, who belongs to an extended family of Somalian immigrants with ties to Southern California, Edmonton and Minneapolis, was arrested in Canada five years ago pursuant to a U.S. extradition request and sent to the U.S. two years ago.

Between November 2013 and March 2014, Abdullahi encouraged, aided and financially assisted the six men, including one from San Diego, to travel to Syria, where all of them were killed fighting for the Islamic State group. He also robbed a jewelry store in Edmonton to pay for the San Diego man and his own 18-year-old cousin from Minneapolis to travel to Syria via Turkey.

"The severity of Abdullahi’s conduct cannot be overstated," the government said in its sentencing memorandum. "He gravitated toward and embraced the violent ideology of ISIS — a terrorist group that has murdered thousands of persons, including U.S. citizens, in Syria and elsewhere and promoted, and taken credit for, lethal attacks against civilians on U.S. soil and elsewhere."

The Justice Department and Abdullahi's attorneys had agreed to ask for a 20-year prison term

"Mr. Abdulahi is remorseful for his conduct and understands the gravity of his actions," his lawyer, Marc Carlos, said in an email. "He will make every effort to show the court he can rehabilitate and live out a peaceful  life."

Abdullahi was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, and his family fled to Kenya when he was young to escape the civil war, according to court filings. They eventually traveled to the United States. He lived in the greater Minneapolis area and San Diego before moving to Edmonton with his family about 2012.

Although he had a string of misdemeanor arrests and convictions before 2012, after the deaths of his cousins in Syria, Abdullahi appeared to have abandoned his support of ISIS and jihadist activities and there was no record of him being involved in any other criminal activity, the government said. Rather, it appeared that he was gainfully employed and supporting his family.

Prior to his arrest, Abdullahi and his family were in the process of starting a nonprofit geared toward helping Somali youths in Edmonton to combat the growing threat from extremist ideologies, gangs and drugs, his mother said in a letter to the judge seeking leniency.

"Fueled by personal tragedies, we wanted to use our experience and knowledge to educate Somali families about these growing threats that plague our community and to provide the tools and resources necessary to facilitate programs that encourage our youth to be successful and productive members of society," she said. "I hope one day Abdullahi is provided with the opportunity to continue with this plan."

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