What would it take for you to commit an act of jihad mass murder? Could an FBI agent convince you by any combination of love or money to do such a thing? No? But what if you were a gentle, misguided, autistic teenager? Then you would do it, right? After all, we see so many gentle, misguided, autistic teenagers committing acts of violence on a daily basis, clearly Anthony LaPinta has a case.
“APNewsBreak: Attorney says NY terrorism suspect did not understand consequences of his actions,” from the Associated Press, July 11:
BAY SHORE, N.Y. “” A young New York man caught boarding a plane on his way to Yemen to fight with an al-Qaida affiliate is a mixed-up teenager who was diagnosed with autism and did not understand the gravity of what he was doing, his attorney told The Associated Press.
Justin Kaliebe, 18, pleaded guilty in a secret federal court proceeding in February to a charge of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization. He was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation before he is sentenced Sept. 27, the outcome of which could prompt defense attorney Anthony LaPinta to seek to have the guilty plea withdrawn.
“Justin Kaliebe is a gentle, misguided, autistic teenager who does not have the ability to fully understand the magnitude and consequences of his actions,” La Pinta said in a statement to the AP.
La Pinta, who joined the defense team after the guilty plea was entered, said he has medical documents showing that Kaliebe was diagnosed with autism as a young child, but he would not release them. He also declined to discuss the specifics of his legal options, citing the pending psychiatric evaluation and a continuing federal investigation.
His client faces up to 30 years in prison.
Kaliebe, who converted to Islam about three years ago, was apparently swept up in the New York Police Department’s ongoing investigation into the activities of Muslims throughout the region. Counterterrorism agents and NYPD officers intercepted the 18-year-old on Jan. 21 as he tried to board a flight to Oman at John F. Kennedy Airport on his way to Yemen.
Acquaintances, including the imam at a Long Island mosque he frequently attended, have described the young man as emotionally immature and a child of divorce who seemed in need of psychiatric counseling.
According to court papers, Kaliebe told an undercover operative pretending to be a confidant, “There is no way out for me. … The only way out is martyrdom.”
The NYPD has long had an interest in converts to Islam as part of its efforts to prevent terrorists attacks, saying in a 2007 report that they are “particularly vulnerable” to radicalization and “have played a prominent role in the majority of terrorist case studies and tend to be the most zealous members of groups.”
Around 2008, the police department stepped up efforts to monitor converts. The department began to look at people who changed their names to ones that sounded Arabic or who came to the U.S. from Muslim countries, according to police documents obtained by the AP. The program was supposed to be a tripwire in the search for homegrown terrorists, even though it involved monitoring behavior protected by the First Amendment.
Court records don’t mention why Kaliebe first came to the attention of the NYPD. But Shamiur Rahman, a former NYPD informant, told the AP in an interview last year he infiltrated a Brooklyn mosque where Kaliebe sometimes prayed and was told to watch Kaliebe and another man because they were converts to Islam.
Prosecutors allege Kaliebe began plotting to join al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula in 2011 while he was in contact with an undercover operative, who recorded their conversations. The operative told Kaliebe he was from Yemen and could give him pointers on how to get there, according to a criminal complaint.
Kaliebe asked the operative “to assure him that he was not going to “˜rat him out” and after the (operative) assured him that he would not, Kaliebe indicated that he wanted to join a group “˜for the sake of Allah.–
Ahmad Deib, a 20-year-old college student, said he befriended Kaliebe at a mosque in Bay Shore, on Long Island. The two met in about 2010.
Deib doesn’t believe Kaliebe was capable of terrorism and said the arrest shocked him.
“That, to me, is a bunch of garbage,” he said. “This is a case of entrapment; this kid, he couldn’t hurt a fly. He is one of the most kindhearted kids you would ever know.”
Friends said Kaliebe’s home life was not ideal. His parents were divorced in 1998 when he just a toddler, said Bilal Hito, who helps run a youth program at the Long Island mosque.
“There was something about Justin that made you feel you were around a little boy,” Hito said. “Mentally he was very young. He was more like a kid brother.”
Deib said Kaliebe once stayed at his house for a week because of the strife at home. At the time, Deib said his friend had confided that he had stopped taking antidepressants because he didn’t like the way they made him feel.
The young man frequently complained about his home life and appeared to be depressed, imam Abdul Jabbar said in an interview at the Bay Shore mosque. At one point, Kaliebe asked the imam if he could live in the mosque.
He said he advised Kaliebe to seek counseling at school, but the teenager declined, saying he feared being stigmatized.
La Pinta disputed reports that his client had a lousy home life. He said that for the past several years, Kaliebe has lived with his father in Bay Shore. The teenager’s mother is remarried and lives in a waterfront community in nearby Babylon.
The AP has forgotten the indelible lesson taught to us by I Love Lucy, that there are two words one should never use: one of them is swell, and the other one is lousy. Like Fred Mertz, the AP would apparently respond, “Give us the lousy one first.”