York teen in court for plotting to join ISIS
The teen wanted to kill police, American soldiers and anyone else who got in his way, court and parole board testimony showed. But the parole board released the teen last year before Zakaryia Abdin Abdin had to be lawfully released at age 21.
Late Thursday, the fears of York County police were realized. The FBI arrested Abdin, now 18, at the Charleston airport on federal terrorism charges of trying to help and join ISIS.
York County’s top law enforcement officers and York’s top officials are outraged. They say they tried to warn state officials.
York Police Chief Andy Robinson and 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett confirmed to The Herald that Abdin is the same person charged and convicted in York as a juvenile.
Abdin and another unnamed extremist were stopped before a 2015 plot was executed to rob a gun store in North Carolina, then attack troops at military bases near Raleigh, N.C.
Robinson said he is livid that Abdin was out of jail.
“We tried to protect the people of this community, this state and America by arresting him and asking that he be kept in jail after he was convicted,” Robinson said Friday.
“We did the best we could,” Robinson said. “But the parole board let him out. It is aggravating that now the federal government can prosecute him because he is 18, when they couldn’t when he was a juvenile. He was just as much a threat then as he is now, and this shows it.”
“All I can say is, I am happy they got him before he hurt or killed somebody. Or a lot of people,” Robinson said.
Robinson and other officers from the York Police Department and York County Sheriff’s Office appeared twice before the S.C. Juvenile Parole Board in 2016. The Herald was the only media to cover the teen’s guilty plea and two parole hearings.
They pleaded with the board not to release Abdin from jail before age 21, when his sentence would end.
“The parole board was deaf to public safety, when our officers told the board that this person was a threat to the United States of America,” said York Mayor Eddie Lee.
“Our police were right and the parole board was wrong,” Lee said. “This person could have killed countless people. I am speechless over this. The people of York and York County were protected by their police and state officials didn’t listen to those police when they had the chance.”
Federal prosecutors did not charge Abdin when he was arrested in York at 16, despite that the FBI and others were part of the investigation.
South Carolina has no terrorism laws, so he could only be charged with illegal gun possession.
A current bill to create a state law that would allow prosecution of juveniles and adults on state terrorism charges is sponsored by state Rep. Tommy Pope of York, now a candidate for Congress. That bill has not come up for a vote.
Abdin, a former York Comprehensive High School student, was arrested in York in February 2015 with a gun, an ISIS flag, electronic material that linked him to ISIS abroad and to another alleged Islamic extremist. He also had a floor plan of the gun store where authorities say a robbery was planned.
Abdin, of Syrian heritage, was tried and convicted in York County Family Court in 2015, then paroled in 2016. Because he was a juvenile, his name was never publicly released.
The Herald, which covered his conviction and parole hearings, did not name Abdin at the time because he was prosecuted as a juvenile.
Federal prosecutors released his name Friday, saying Abdin, now an adult, was again trying to join and help ISIS. Federal authorities declined to say that Abdin was the same person convicted in York.
Brackett, the 16th Circuit solicitor, said evidence against Abdin in the York case was “very troubling and disturbing. We realize now, at least from these allegations, that what happened in York was not a one-time aberration.”
Abdin told the juvenile parole board in two hearings and a judge when he pleaded guilty to weapon possession that he was a changed person, and that he never plotted to join ISIS, despite evidence in juvenile court and police testimony.
He and his lawyers claimed that his behavior was a one-time event, and that his plan to join ISIS was not legitimate.
But Abdin refused to name anyone else involved or to say where he got the gun. He said he was heartbroken over the death of his father.
Abdin, who now lives in Ladson near Charleston, told the parole board in May he would be living with family near Charleston and attending technical school.
York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson called it “fortunate” that Abdin was stopped.
“Given Abdin’s unwillingness to cooperate, even at his parole hearing before being released, it’s not surprising we are at this point with him again,” Tolson said. “Fortunately, he was once again prevented from achieving his mission of harming innocent Americans.”
Former York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant was also outraged. Bryant, a police officer for 45 years, praised law enforcement for catching Abdin.
“There are so many loopholes, so many ways, for people like this person who was a threat to the people of this state and country and still is, to get out and threaten people,” Bryant said.
Rich Cadell, a retired York Police Department lieutenant who led the investigation into Abdin, said he was “saddened and stunned” to find out Abdin was arrested again.
“We tried to tell them” Caddell said, referring to the parole board. “We said it could happen. We said we didn’t want it to happen. And now, it did.”