Growing up as the eldest son of Yemeni immigrants in a poor neighborhood in the south end of Dearborn, Ibraheem Izzy Musaibli struggled to fit in.
Facing problems with bullying, he dropped out of school after ninth grade at Edsel Ford High School, spending his time playing video games and limiting his social interactions to online activity, according to federal court records. He strove to be devout, often praying and attending services at a Dearborn mosque, but he had difficulties learning Arabic and reciting from the Quran, which his father stressed as important.
After three failed marriages, Musaibli at the age of 25 traveled in 2015 to Syria, where he fought for ISIS, according to federal prosecutors. He was eventually caught by the Syrian Democratic Forces, handed over to the FBI and taken back to the U.S. where he was criminally charged, according to court records. In January, a jury found him guilty of three counts of supporting the Islamic State group and training with its members from 2015 to 2018.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge David Lawson of the Eastern District of Michigan sentenced Musaibli, age 33, to 14 years in federal prison. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit had asked Lawson for a 35-year sentence; defense attorneys asked for a 10-year sentence.
“This defendant chose to join a brutal, foreign terrorist organization and then to fight against the United States,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Dawn Ison said in a statement after the sentencing. “For his betrayal of our nation and his fellow citizens, he is deserving of a long sentence.”
In their sentencing memo filed ahead of the hearing in Detroit federal court, defense attorneys James Gerometta, Fabián Rentería Franco and John Shea argued that the judge should take into consideration the hardships Musaibli faced in his life. They suggested he may have had cognitive problems that stemmed in part from his mother being a user of the stimulant drug khat while she was pregnant with him. Khat is illegal in the U.S. and legal in Yemen.
His mother “chewed khat to cope with difficult situations; she specifically used it in Yemen during this time” when she was pregnant, Musaibli’s attorneys wrote. “Khat is a common drug in Yemen that is used by the general populace, and an estimated 41% of women in Yemen use khat during pregnancy as it is believed to reduce stress and increase alertness. … The psychological and physical consequences of khat on pregnant users for both mom and baby are long-term.”
Musaibli’s attorneys also said he was critical of ISIS and that ISIS thought he was a spy, imprisoning him at one point.
But federal prosecutors dismissed those pleas, saying he was a dedicated ISIS fighter who battled against America. and its allies.
“Ibraheem Musaibli is an Islamic State fighter,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Hank Moon and Michael Martin wrote in their sentencing memo signed by Ison. “Musaibli knew what he wanted, and he saw it through to the end.Musaibli researched ISIS while in the United States, saw that ISIS burned a Jordanian pilot alive, and decided that this was the group for him, calling ISIS the ‘true mujahideen,’ or holy warriors. … He attended ISIS religious and military training camps. He proudly fought with ISIS on the front lines against American and coalition forces.”
“To this day, Musaibli has neither taken responsibility for serving ISIS as a foreign fighter nor shown remorse for his actions,” they added.
At the beginning of their memo, Moon and Martin cited a comment Musaibli, who has four children, made in August 2016: “As for me I will never give up jihad even if my kids have to beg on the streets and I have to eat leaves from tree…”
During his Dearborn upbringing, Musaibli found it challenging to juggle the demands of his father, school and society.
“The Qur’an was a critical component of Ibraheem’s life,” his defense attorneys wrote in a sentencing memo. “Studying and learning the Qur’an was important, but Ibraheem struggled with learning Arabic … Ibraheem was frequently punished as a child. Not remembering verses of the Qur’an or his inability to recite them when studying with his father led to punishment. …Trouble at school partially stemmed from Ibraheem’s limited relationships with those outside of his family structure.”
According to prosecutors and court records, Musaibli became interested in ISIS in 2015 while living in Dearborn. He had traveled back and forth to Yemen over the years for marriages and family visits. Musaibli worked at Mecca Aroma, a fragrance and perfume shop in Detroit run by his father that his family wanted him to take over and manage, but he was inept and naive, sometimes getting cheated by customers, associates and family members said.
He traveled to Yemen in April 2015 and continued his research into ISIS, “downloading ISIS propaganda and an ISIS book on how to get into Syria,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release.
In the fall of 2015, he traveled from Yemen into Syria, where he attended an ISIS religious training camp, then an ISIS military camp, “where he learned to shoot, carry, and otherwise handle an AK-47 assault rifle” and fired at ISIS enemies, prosecutors said. He married for a fourth time after going to Syria.
“Musaibli remained with ISIS for over two and a half years,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. “During that time, Musaibli fought for ISIS against the United States and its allies, where he was wounded in battle. Musaibli was eventually apprehended by Syrian Democratic Forces in 2018, turned over to the FBI, and flown back to the United States to face terrorism charges.”
His attorneys challenged the U.S. government’s claims, saying that he was motivated by what he saw as the oppression of Muslims by the government of Syria rather than a love for ISIS. The U.S. supported groups operating in Syria who were battling the Syrian government.
“Like many young men looking for redemption, he thought heroic glory on the battlefield would earn him the respect of his family and others,” his attorneys wrote. “He sought a just battle and was drawn to the suffering of women and children in the Arabic world, either in Yemen or Syria. As the situation for Sunni Muslims in Syria grew more desperate under the assaults of Bashar al-Assad, their cause seemed unassailably righteous. Mr. Musaibli traveled to Syria not for politics, but for personal salvation and to help his oppressed brethren. Once there he naively traveled to ISIL territory.”
Gerometta said Musaibli has been in custody since he was brought back to the U.S. in July 2018. For now, he will remain in a federal detention center in Milan until he’s transferred by the federal Bureau of Prisons.
As of March, there have been 246 people in the U.S. charged with crimes tied to ISIS, eight of them in Michigan, including Musaibli, according to George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.
Others in metro Detroit accused of supporting the group include Sebastian Gregerson, a convert in Detroit described by prosecutors as a soldier for ISIS sentenced to 45 months in 2017 for owning explosives; Khalil Abu Rayyan, a Dearborn Heights man accused of admiring ISIS who was sentenced to five years in 2017 on gun charges; and Ahmad Jebril, a Dearborn cleric accused by a think-tank of being the most popular religious leader among ISIS fighters from Western nations who served an earlier prison term for fraud.
Source: Detroit Free Press