CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) — Was he a dedicated Islamic radical who proudly proclaimed his commitment to jihad, unaware his words were secretly being recorded by the FBI? Or was he a misguided, mildly autistic teenager who didn’t understand what he was doing?
A federal judge in New York is set to decide Tuesday how much prison time Justin Kaliebe deserves for plotting to join al-Qaida in 2013.
Now 22, Kaliebe was a 16-year-old high school student who had recently converted to Islam from Roman Catholicism when he landed on the radar of undercover agents on the hunt for would-be radicals on suburban Long Island.
FBI agents and New York City police officers watched him for 18 months before arresting him four years ago after he went to Kennedy Airport intending to fly to Yemen, where he would join the militant group al-Qaida.
Kaliebe pleaded guilty within a month of his arrest. His sentencing was delayed for four years while the court held hearings into whether he understood the gravity of his crime.
Kaliebe’s attorney argued that his client has Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the spectrum of autism, and also had developmental issues and a troubled home life.
Federal prosecutors asked U.S. District Court Judge Denis Hurley to give him 24 years.
They said the undercover agents interacting with Kaliebe made video recordings of him talking…