DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – U.S. District Judge Walter Rice described the story of Laith Waleed Alebbini’s conviction and 15-year sentence for offering material support to the Islamic State as a three-chapter novel.
Alebbini was arrested in 2017 while trying to fly from Northern Kentucky-Cincinnati Airport to Turkey. To Judge Rice, this was the end of the third act and the criminal action that culminated a radicalization process that made him a supporter for the Islamic State terrorist group.
It was the second chapter of this story where Rice said Alebbini’s motives became radical. Where he shrugged off the advice and pleas from his family and even calls from his sister as he drove to the airport, en route to Syria.
Alebbini moved to Dayton, was willfully unemployed and according to his wife in a statement from the court, depressed. He began spending time on the internet and became angry over the war in Syria and the country’s leader Bashar al-Assad.
“It’s one thing to try to help someone who is a drug addict,” Rice said. “It’s another to help someone develop critical thinking skills. It’s a completely different thing to exorcise an ideology from someone. I don’t know how you can do that.”
Rice said belief and words aren’t criminal, but combined with action they become criminal. That action happened when Alebbini walked into the airport and went to board the plane, with no hint of heading back to the exit.
Rice and defense counsel Tom Anderson said this was the largest disparity in sentencing recommendations they had seen in court. The U.S. attorney’s office wanted Alebbini sentenced 30 to 40 years. The defense counsel wanted Alebbini released on time served.
Anderson and fellow consel Art Mullins brought up cases in Minnesota that had shorter sentences. Rice said in those cases, the defendants pled guilty or showed responsibility.
“Mr. Alebbini hasn’t showed responsibility and he’s misrepresented evidence in the case,” Rice said. “Frankly that’s not someone setting themselves on the right track. Sorry, but that’s the difference.”
Rice said Alebbini would be deported immediately upon release from prison, but if he were to remain in the country, he would be under 25 years of supervisory release. He ordered Alebbini to take rehab classes in cognitive behavior therapy, critical thinking and remoral reconation.