American ISIS Recruit Gets 20 Years in Prison

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ABC News reports that American ISIS recruit Donald Ray Morgan, 44, of North Carolina has been sentenced to 20 years in prison on terrorism and weapons charges.

Morgan’s effort to join forces with the Islamic State was thwarted last August, when he flew to Istanbul with an eye toward crossing the border into Syria, but was halted by Turkish authorities and sent back to Lebanon.  Although he said he suspected American law enforcement was onto him, he flew back to New York anyway, and was promptly arrested at JFK airport.

Already a felon thanks to charges from a 1997 shooting incident, Morgan pled guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIS, and felony possession of a firearm.  (Specifically, he was trying to sell a rifle online, which is perhaps not the wisest use of the Internet for someone who cannot legally possess a gun.)

ABC quotes briefly from a lengthy NBC News interview with Morgan, conducted while he was hanging out in Beirut last summer, in which the wannabe jihadi is described as “a Catholic-born American man, a former military school student, special forces aspirant, law enforcement officer, and bodybuilder.”

Morgan’s history included failing National Guard boot camp — he wanted to deploy with the Guard to Kuwait for Operation Desert Storm — and serving as a sheriff’s deputy, a position from which he was involuntarily terminated, for reasons his department did not wish to discuss.  He indulged in “drinking, fighting, and partying,” spent two years in prison for discharging a pistol into a crowded restaurant, took up bodybuilding, got married to another bodybuilder, had a son, got divorced, and then found Islam in 2007.

He told the NBC interviewer that he was a fairly relaxed and moderate Muslim at first, but got serious and “made a commitment” to “practice what I preach” in 2012.  He radicalized immediately, posting Islamist messages on Facebook that a co-worker described as “a bit extreme at times” with some “volatile” passages, including “derogatory statements toward Israel” and “some statements about infidels.”

He grew even more volatile after departing for Lebanon in 2014, reinventing himself online as a “holy warrior” named “Abu Omar al-Amreeki,” and swearing fealty to ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on June 29 of that year.

Morgan doesn’t regard himself as extreme.

“I would not classify myself as a radical, but by Western definition I would be classified as a radical,” he told NBC News.  “I just consider myself to be a practicing Muslim.”