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American Teenage Terrorist-Wannabe Pleads Guilty to Aiding the Islamic State

An American teenager has been charged with aiding the Islamic State.

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Most teenagers use social media to share selfies and connect with friends. A 17-year-old in suburban Washington, D.C., used it to spread the anti-Western hatred of the Islamic State.

Ali Shukri Amin, a former student at Osbourn Park High School in Manassas, Virginia, pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to provide material support to the extremist group. He was arrested in February of this year. Under the terms of a deal with prosecutors, Amin admitted to organizing a successful trip to Syria for Reza Niknejad, an 18-year-old man also from the Virginia suburb, who wanted to fight for the Islamic State. Niknejad, who has also been charged with terrorism-related crimes, remains overseas.

Amin admitted to be the person behind the @AmreekiWitness Twitter handle, which once garnered an impressive 4,000 followers. On it, the teen peddled pro-Islamic State messages and was notorious for getting into Twitter wars with the State Department, which is currently waging an uphill battle to combat the Islamic State’s powerful online presence.

His guilty plea is a reminder of just how deeply the Islamic State has burrowed into the United States, both digitally and with people inspired to commit acts of violence. U.S. Attorney Dana Boente said the federal government has charged nearly 50 people with spreading its ideology online. Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi said 35 have been charged for plotting real-life attacks on behalf of the group.

Amin’s case shows just how easily the online world of terrorist propaganda can bleed into real life. According to his plea deal, Amin got an Islamic State supporter overseas to send Niknejad a phone, letter, and thumb drive to be used during his travels. Niknejad left Dulles International Airport for Turkey on Jan. 15, 2015. Amin, described by his attorney as a devout Muslim, then delivered a letter to Niknejad’s family, telling them the budding jihadi did not plan to return home.

Prosecutors said Amin played a role in the Islamic State’s online publicity machine that was mature beyond his young age. They called him an “influential online figure” who was “very articulate.” Amin also tweeted about how to raise money for the terrorist group using the online currency Bitcoin.

Amin’s defense attorneys tried to dismiss his actions of those of a wayward teen. He now faces five years in prison for his youthful indiscretions. His sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 28.

Photo credit: Mary Turner/Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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