Connecticut man gets 12 years in prison for failed plan to fight for Islamic State in Syria

Dec 21, 2023, 2:37 PM

A Connecticut man who pleaded guilty to planning to fight for the Islamic State group in Syria was sentenced to 12 years in prison on a terrorism charge Thursday, a lighter punishment than what had been sought by prosecutors who called him a danger to society.

A judge imposed the punishment on Kevin McCormick, 30, a former Hamden resident, in federal court in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where the U.S. attorney’s office called for a 20-year prison term. Judge Kari Dooley also ordered that McCormick be placed on supervised release with GPS monitoring for the rest of his life after the time behind bars.

“His desire to fight for a violent foreign terrorist organization and kill people, and his multiple attempts to travel to the Middle East to carry out that desire, show that he poses a grave threat,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Neeraj Patel wrote in the government’s sentencing recommendation.

McCormick, who was arrested in October 2019 as he tried to board a plane to Canada with plans to continue flying to the Middle East, pleaded guilty in January to attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. He has been detained since his arrest.

McCormick’s lawyer, public defender Charles Willson, asked the judge to release his client on probation, saying further punishment was not needed.

“More prison time for someone with Mr. McCormick’s mental health needs and having been in the midst of a breakdown at the time of the offense does not promote respect for the law or serve to deter anyone,” Willson wrote in his sentencing recommendation.

The Associated Press sent Willson an email seeking comment.

In court documents, the public defender said McCormick’s mental health was “free-falling” at the time of his arrest. He said McCormick was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and had severe reactions to his medication. McCormick suffered psychotic breaks and other conditions that landed him in the hospital, he said.

“To cope over the years, and to attempt to address other interests, Mr. McCormick had been seeking direction within the Muslim faith, but that led to going deeper and deeper into online information he irrationally perceived as supporting his developing faith and isolating and obsessing over perceived elevated tenets of the faith,” Willson wrote.

He added, “Everyone could see that he was struggling to get on the right path, although no one knew the depths of his chaos in his life and thinking.”

During the criminal case, McCormick was initially ruled incompetent to stand trial. But he was deemed competent after receiving medical treatment.

Federal authorities said McCormick, a former contract driver for a large company, told several people he wanted to fight for the Islamic State group in Syria. He also pledged his allegiance to the IS and its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who took his own life on Oct. 27, 2019, as U.S. commandos closed in on him in northern Syria.

“It’s gotta be like Syria,” McCormick told a government informant, according to federal prosecutors. “Where ISIL (IS) is at … whichever place is easiest, whatever place I can get there the fastest, the quickest, the easiest, and where I can have a rifle and I can have some people, bro.”

In September 2019, McCormick tried to buy a firearm and a knife in Washington state, but a clerk refused because McCormick was acting strange, authorities said. On Oct. 12, 2019, he tried to board a flight from Connecticut to Jamaica, where he planned to catch another flight on his way to Syria, but Homeland Security officials would not let him on the plane, prosecutors said.

McCormick was arrested several days later at a small, private airport in Connecticut, where he expected to board a plane to Canada and then fly to Jordan, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said McCormick has never disavowed his support for the Islamic State and recently told a psychiatrist that he is not mentally ill and does not need medication. While detained during the case, McCormick has racked up violations in detention for fighting, assaults and threats, they said, including an arrest for allegedly assaulting a correction officer.

Islamic State fighters seized portions of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and declared the establishment of a so-called Islamic caliphate there, at a time when Syria was already convulsed by civil war. Fighting laid waste to multiple cities before Iraq’s prime minister declared the caliphate vanquished in 2017. The extremists lost the last of their territory two years later, though sporadic attacks persist even now.

At the height of the fighting, as many as 40,000 people from 120 countries showed up to join in, according to the United Nations. There is no comprehensive U.S. statistic on how many of those foreign fighters were Americans. A 2018 report by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism found at least 64 who had joined jihadist fighting in Iraq and Syria since 2011.

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Connecticut man gets 12 years in prison for failed plan to fight for Islamic State in Syria