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News Opinion Editorial

The teenage terrorist [Editorial]

Federal prosecutors are recommending that Mohammad Hassan Khalid — who pleaded guilty to conspiring to aid terrorists while he attended a Howard county high school — be granted leniency at his sentencing because of his considerable cooperation with authorities.

The government suggests a term of "less than 10 years" in a court document filed last week in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia. We think they can do better. In fact, time served may be appropriate.

Mr. Khalid, a Mount Hebron High School graduate who earned a full scholarship to Johns Hopkins University before his arrest in July 2011 at the age of 17, has already spent more than two years in prison. And he started to help authorities almost immediately after he was picked up. He met with law enforcement agents for dozens of hours, testified twice before a grand jury, interpreted emails for the government and provided information about "multiple important targets including individuals and media associated with Al Qaeda and the Global Islamic Media Front," according to the prosecution. His information was "instrumental" in several search warrants and found to be "truthful, complete and reliable."

Further, he was — and by many practical measures, still is — a kid, and should be treated as such. In most instances, the law determines that minors, as not-yet fully formed human beings, should not be held accountable as adults would be. Yet here the government seeks the opposite in a situation that's serious but mitigated by the fact that Mr. Khalid took up the holy war infatuation when he was 15 and carried it out online with the dedication most other boys his age apply to video games.

In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors say Mr. Khalid, a Pakistani citizen who was raised in Ellicott City with his three siblings, was "consumed by a desire to support violent jihad" and that "not even a series of visits from the FBI deterred him." He actually boasted about his being named a conspirator to Jihad Jane (aka Colleen LaRose) prior to his arrest. He fits the profile less of a hardened terrorist than a misguided boy unable to comprehend the consequences of his actions.

Prosecutors rightfully note that Mr. Khalid's "sincere efforts at cooperation do not erase the harm that he caused." He harbored a stolen passport that has yet to be recovered; helped Jihad Jane remove Internet posts that could have been used as evidence against her, and translated "violent jihad videos from Urdu to English" and posted them online, where they remain for others to see.

He did not, however, press a button he believed would detonate a bomb and kill U.S. soldiers, as then 21-year-old Antonio Martinez did in December 2010 outside a Catonsville military facility. (Undercover FBI agents had supplied him with dummy explosives.) Mr. Martinez was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Jihad Jane, who traveled to Europe intent on participating in a terrorist murder plot, was on Monday sentenced to 10 years in prison. Mr. Khalid, regardless of whether he would acknowledge it, was a far lesser figure than she.

Mr. Khalid is facing up to 15 years at his sentencing, which had been set for Jan. 7, but has since been postponed.

His life is already ruined. He has lost his scholarship and his promising future, and he faces deportation. Mr. Khalid has already paid for his crime.

To respond to this editorial, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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