Andrew Dys

Police, prosecutor who put York ISIS teen in prison: Terror threat 'deadly serious' here

There is talk about what to do about the Islamic State group worldwide after the Paris terrorist attacks. There are debates and political fights in South Carolina over whether to accept Syrian refugees, when the group has vowed to try to sneak in among refugees.

In York County, there is no debate. York police and prosecutors in April put someone who wanted to join the Islamic State group and kill soldiers in prison. The teen had an “ISIS” flag. He had met with a radical bent on mass murder of police and troops in North Carolina. His computer was filled with materials from the Islamic State group.

“This threat is deadly serious,” said 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett. “ISIS wants to recruit here. They did it here. They tried to lure, seduce, a teen from York. Right here.”

In April, the 16-year-old American citizen, whose family is Syrian, pleaded guilty to a weapons charge and was sent to juvenile prison, where he could stay until he turns 21. When York police investigated the teen’s taking a gun to school, they found that he had wanted to join the Islamic State group after being targeted by radical recruiters. He plotted with an Islamic radical from North Carolina to rob a gun store and massacre soldiers.

The teen – whose name has not been released because he was prosecuted as a juvenile – wanted to go to the Middle East and join in the jihad.

“The plot in this case was deadly serious,” Brackett said. “This was not a fluke. We would be fools to ignore it.”

The teen claimed that violence by the Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, against the people of Syria pushed him toward radicalism. It is those young people around the world – and right here in York, as it happened – that the Islamic State group is trying to turn into barbaric killers, Brackett said.

The boy was not a refugee from the recent violence in Syria, but his family did immigrate from Syria. His family denied any knowledge of his involvement with the Islamic State group when he was arrested after an investigation by York police and the FBI.

But the teen admitted everything.

The teen was not charged by federal authorities under terrorism laws, possibly because he was a juvenile.

Since the Paris attacks, several South Carolina politicians have demanded that no Syrian refugees be resettled in the state. Trying to do the humane deed of resettling refugees who have been brutalized must be tempered by the Islamic State group’s admission that it has and will continue to sneak in killers along with the innocents, Brackett said.

Current screening methods cannot ensure that no terrorists would be allowed in, Brackett said.

Islamic State militants “mean us harm,” he said, “and we should err on the side of caution. We must be vigilant and alert.

“Not fearful, but cautious.”

York County has sizable Muslim communities, both in Rock Hill and at Holy Islamville near York. Those people have been here for years and are good, patriotic people, Brackett said.

Leaders of Holy Islamville and the Masjid Al-Salam – literally, “Mosque of Peace” – near downtown Rock Hill have repeatedly condemned terrorist attacks by the Islamic State group, al-Qaida and other militant groups.

The York teen, like so many young people, was “brainwashed,” said Abdul Khanani, an elder at the Rock Hill mosque. Islamic militants are not true Muslims, he said, because they are killers.

“These ISIS attacks are horrible,” he said.

The Islamic State group’s recruitment of teens and young men, Khanani said, has created a cadre of killers and would-be killers – just like the teen from York.

The York teen’s lawyers maintained that he was merely an opponent of the Assad regime because of the atrocities committed by the government against the Syrian people. They said he never really intended to join the Islamic State group.

But prosecutors and police in York point to the teen’s admission that he had talked about the mass murder plot.

“This was real, right here in York,” York Police Chief Andy Robinson said. “It happened and, honestly, it was pretty scary.”

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065