HOUSTON (CN) — A legal resident the FBI busted before he could travel to Syria to be a bomb expert for the Islamic State was sentenced Monday to 16 years in federal prison.
Iraq-born Omar Faraj Saeed al Hardan entered the United States with his parents as a refugee in 2009 and became a permanent resident in 2011.
Al Hardan, 25, was arrested at a Department of Homeland Security office in Houston in January 2016. He was living in a Houston-area apartment with his wife and their 10-month-old son.
Though al Hardan was working as a limo driver, Uber driver and a vehicle emissions inspector in Houston, he had not integrated well into American society, his court-appointed attorney David Adler said at his sentencing hearing Monday.
“He led a very isolated life here in the U.S.,” Adler said. “He was not aware of just how fortunate he was to be in a country like this. He had very little contact outside his family, very little contact with English-speaking Americans, and that led him to believe a lot of things he saw online that he no longer believes.”
Al Hardan, wearing an olive green jump suit, his black hair parted down the middle and noticeably thinner since his arrest nearly two years ago, stood next to Adler with his head bowed at a podium in front of U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes.
Adler said al Hardan is taking classes in prison and getting certificates to improve his skills so he can provide for his family when he is released.
“But he's turned away forever from his belief that going overseas to help a primitive organization like ISIS is a smart idea,” Adler said.
A federal grand jury handed down a three-count indictment in January 2016, charging al Hardan with attempting to join ISIS, lying on his citizenship application about his ties to terrorist groups, and not disclosing during an interview with an immigration official that he’d been trained how to shoot a machine gun.
Prosecutors said in court Monday that al Hardan had been in contact in 2013 via Facebook Messenger with three men who were fighting in the Middle East for the Al-Nusra Front, before he applied for citizenship in August 2014.
He told the informant he needed to get a passport to travel to Syria to fight alongside ISIS, according to the indictment.
Al-Nusra, also designated by the government as a foreign terrorist group, is fighting the Syrian government in the country’s civil war that’s well into its sixth year.
Prosecutors said the FBI began investigating al Hardan and had its informant contact him after he lost contact with Al-Nusra Front fighters and started ordering electronic parts.
Al Hardan has admitted he lied on his citizenship application, saying he had no ties to terrorist organizations, and that he did not disclose during an interview with an immigration official that the FBI informant had trained him how to shoot an AK-47 rifle.
Al Hardan pleaded guilty in October 2016 to attempting to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
Al Hardan read a statement at the Monday hearing after Judge Hughes said the federal sentencing guidelines recommended he be sentenced to five to six years in federal prison.