A 17-year-old American teenager pleaded guilty in court on Thursday to charges of conspiring to assist militants of Islamic State, marking the first time the United States has prosecuted a minor as an adult in such a case.
Court documents state that Ali Amin, who comes from Manassas, Virginia, used Twitter and his blog to give instructions on how to use Bitcoins, a virtual currency, to send funds to militants.
Prosecutors said that Amin also helped fellow Virginia resident Reza Niknejad to travel to Syria to join the group that has taken over almost two-thirds of both Iraq and Syria in the past year in a campaign marked by heinous acts of mass killings and beheadings.
Following social media postings by Jihadist militants, the SITE monitoring service said that Amin had about 4000 followers on Twitter and was in communication with well-known Islamic State fighters and recruiters.
SITE also added that Amin’s site included a picture of the White House topped with an Islamic State black flag and featured a note that said the site was “dedicated to raising awareness about the upcoming conquest of the Americas.”
Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, told the press that the magnitude of the charges against Amin led his prosecution as an adult.
“It’s something we take very, very seriously, the age of someone…but at the end of the day, it’s a matter of public safety,” Boente said. When he is sentenced on August 28, Amin could face up to 15 years in prison.
Joseph Flood, Amin’s lawyer, described the teenager as a “good guy” who sympathized with the opposition against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and got involved with the wrong thing online.
Clad in prison uniform, Amin appeared calm and polite as he pleaded guilty to the charges against him. His mother, who was also present in the courtroom, remained silent and stoic.
Using an acronym for Islamic State, Assistant Attorney General John Carlin said in a statement that “this case serves as a wake-up call that ISIL’s propaganda and recruitment materials are in your communities and being viewed by your youth.”
Andrew McCabe, assistant director of the FBI’s Washington field office, noted that Amin was a “promising young man” who was active in his local mosque community and was helpful to his family. He said that Amin had been under the FBI’s radar since November 2014.
Prosecutors said that Amin organized Niknejad’s travel arrangements and drove him to Dulles International Airport in January. Niknejad’s location remains unknown and prosecutors have filed terrorism-related charges against him on Wednesday.