Federal Appeals Court upholds convicted terrorist’s 43-year prison sentence

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  • The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a 43-year prison sentence for a man convicted in North Carolina in 2011 of taking part in a terrorism conspiracy.
  • Hysen Sherifi had pursued "violent jihad" at home and abroad. While in North Carolina, he planned an attack on Virginia's Quantico Marine Corps Base.
  • A trial judge reduced Sherifi's original sentence from 45 years to 43 years behind bars after the US Supreme Court's 2019 decision in United States v. Davis.

The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a 43-year prison sentence for Hysen Sherifi. He was convicted in North Carolina in 2011 on charges linked to a terrorism conspiracy.

A trial judge had cut two years off Sherifi’s original 45-year sentence after a 2019 US Supreme Court decision. The high court had ruled that a law used to convict Sherifi was unconstitutional under certain circumstances.

Sherifi had challenged the resentencing. A unanimous three-judge 4th Circuit panel upheld the trial judge’s decision Tuesday.

“Fueled by violent Islamic extremism, Sherifi participated in a terrorism conspiracy from 2008 to 2009,” wrote Judge Harvie Wilkinson. “Sherifi befriended figures in North Carolina who shared his view that Islamic jihad meant ‘to fight physically with weapons against the enemies of Islam, wherever they are at and whoever they might be.’ Hassan, He defined such enemies of Islam as ‘everyone who did not share [his] … violent ideology,’ and thus advocated for ‘murderous acts against innocent soldiers and civilians.’ Ultimately, Sherifi planned to die as a martyr, which he viewed as ‘an important goal for a good Muslim.’”

Sherifi supported other “violent jihadists,” Wilkinson wrote. “He donated money and fundraised alongside his co-conspirators to support terrorism abroad. He established contact with a wanted terrorist and helped others engage in jihadist weapons training. Sherifi also shared extremist videos with an FBI informant, including lectures by the radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki and a video of a beheading that Sherifi used to threaten death upon those who left Islam.”

He also planned to commit “violent jihad” himself, Wilkinson explained. “Sherifi’s initial plan was to fight alongside jihadists in Jerusalem, and he also considered fighting in Chechnya or Syria. He obtained documentation to travel overseas, studied military tactics, and traveled to Kosovo, where he engaged in firearms training alongside other Muslim extremists. Eventually, Sherifi revealed to an FBI informant that ‘Allah ha[d] opened a way for [him]’ to get to the Middle East and engage in jihad.”

First, he returned to North Carolina and talked about a plan to raise money to buy farmland in Kosovo, Wilkinson added. His “jihadist brothers” would use that land on the way to the battlefield. “While stateside, Sherifi ‘developed a scheme” with a co-conspirator ‘to attack the Quantico Marine Corps Base in eastern Virginia.’ They discussed infiltrating the base to ‘kidnap[] a Marine officer,’ with the goal being to seize ‘a general or someone of high rank.’”

“Sherifi believed he had a skillset fit for attacking Quantico because he had previously made truck deliveries at what is now Fort Liberty in North Carolina and ‘boasted … about how easy it was, as a delivery truck driver, to access such military facilities,’” Wilkinson wrote.

“To support this and other jihadist goals, Sherifi helped build a weapons bunker on a co-conspirator’s property in North Carolina, participated in two weapons training sessions there, and sought to recruit likeminded individuals to train with him and his co-conspirators,” the 4th Circuit opinion continued. “Unbeknownst to Sherifi, however, FBI informants had infiltrated the operation. Sherifi and his co-conspirators were arrested before they could attack Quantico or carry out their other plans.”

Convicted on five federal charges, Sherifi could have faced two life sentences and another 50 years in federal prison. But the judge cut the overall sentence to 45 years behind bars.

While in prison, “Sherifi hatched a plot to murder federal agents and informants who testified against him,” Wilkinson wrote. “Sherifi was once again thwarted by the FBI, and he was convicted in federal court of conspiracy to commit murder for hire and related offenses. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and did not appeal.”

Yet Sherifi did seek relief from his earlier convictions for “possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence,” in light of the US Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in United States v. Davis.

“The upshot of the resentencing was that Sherifi’s sentence was reduced by 24 months—from 540 months to 516 months,” Wilkinson explained. “The district court credited positive steps that Sherifi had taken in prison since his initial conviction as a reason for the reduced sentence, but concluded that a lengthy sentence remained necessary given the ‘dangerousness’ of the offense, the importance of ‘discourag[ing] this type of conduct,’ and the need ‘to promote respect for the law.’”

Appellate judges upheld US District Judge Louise Flanagan’s decision. Chief Judge Albert Diaz and Judge Robert Bruce King joined Wilkinson’s opinion.