Andrew Dys

Exclusive: York teen meets with parole board, denies plot to join ISIS

The teen from York – who police and prosecutors say wanted to join ISIS and plotted to kill American soldiers – denies being part of any plot and has refused to tell police where he bought two guns. And on Monday, the head of South Carolina’s parole board told the teen that the refusal to help officers is a “cloud over his head,” and “you need to help make this state feel safe.”

That refusal could mean more time in prison for the 17-year-old. The teen will find out Tuesday if he will be released. The decision will be released to the public Wednesday.

Monday’s hearing in front of the parole board marked the first time probation officials have challenged the teen to assist police in the investigation into potential terrorism. It was the teen’s second shot at parole after being denied in February.

The teen claimed in the hearing, “I do not believe in killing innocent people,” but so far has refused to tell officers where he got the guns and even denies the plot that police say was foiled just a day before it was to begin.

The teen claimed Monday that he has “changed.” But he has not cooperated, saying, “I don’t want to arouse anything else,” and “I was never involved in a plot.”

Despite the teen’s arrest, conviction and year in prison, police confirmed Monday to the parole board the investigation remains active and ongoing. The FBI has refused to comment on the case since the teen was arrested in 2015. Police say the teen admitted he would kill police officers or anyone else who got in his way when he was arrested in 2015.

The teen, whom The Herald is not naming because of his age and his conviction as a juvenile, has been in a state prison for juveniles since April 2015 after pleading guilty to the weapons charge. But Monday’s hearing brought up a far larger issue that could affect whether the parole board votes to release the teen: his unwillingness to give the FBI, York County deputies, or York Police Department officers the names of who supplied him with a rifle and handgun the teen had in late 2014 and early 2015 that led to officers uncovering the ISIS and soldier-massacre plot before anyone was hurt or killed.

Police and prosecutors say the teen, of Syrian heritage, had an ISIS flag and communications with an unnamed Islamic radical from the Raleigh, N.C., area in his possession when arrested in February 2015. Police made the arrest the day before the plot was to begin, after officers found diagrams of the gun store and other action plans.

The teen’s unwillingness to assist law enforcement drew sharp words from Oscar Douglas, chairman of the juvenile parole board, who told the teen that his arrest and conviction has received not just statewide but national attention. Douglas told the teen he can “come full circle” and get rid of any connection to the case by cooperating with police about where the guns came from.

“Does that make sense to you?” Douglas asked the teen.

Douglas pointedly told the teen he has no mandate to cooperate, but it would look good on the teen’s behalf for potential release if he did.

Tom Elliott, the court-appointed lawyer for the teen, told the parole board Monday, as he did in February, that the teen has an exemplary record in jail and should be judged on his record there, not any allegations of potential terrorism where the teen has never been charged by any state or federal agency.

However, Elliot said the teen “has indicated he is not going to divulge who gave him those weapons.”

Police officers from York County at Monday’s parole board hearing said there remain serious concerns for community, state, even national security if the teen is released, especially since the teen has refused to cooperate about the guns. Sheriff’s Sgt. Bob Hamilton, a former FBI agent who is assigned to a joint local-federal task force on terrorism, pointedly told the parole board the teen has been “unwilling to identify his co-conspirators” in a meeting with police since the teen was denied parole in February.

“The fact remains I still don’t know where the weapons came from,” Hamilton told the parole board.

Hamilton said the lack of voluntary contrition from the teen means the teen has not fully addressed his past actions and is still a threat to the safety of York County, South Carolina and the nation.

York police arrested the teen last year after a joint investigation with the FBI that reached the highest levels of national intelligence and law enforcement. FBI agents converged on York to question the teen after school boasting led to the probe. Both York Police Chief Andy Robinson and Lt. Rich Caddell, who led the investigation, told the parole board again Monday that they oppose release without any evidence the teen has changed his radical idealism. The two officers each said they hope the teen has a chance to turn his life around, but public safety comes first.

“I would not be doing my duty as the police chief if I did not bring up these concerns about public safety in York, the state and country,” Robinson said.

Caddell bluntly told the board that the teen’s joint scheme with the unnamed radical from North Carolina to kill Americans was a “real” and “terrible plot,” and that the teen previously embraced “Islamic extremism,” which remains the world’s foremost security challenge.

Although the teen could max out of his sentence as early as this summer, that is just a guideline, said Douglas, the parole board chairman, and the teen’s sentence could run until age 21.

Updated coverage

The S.C. Board of Juvenile Parole expects to release information regarding the York teen at noon Wednesday. See heraldonline.com for updated covearge.

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