WASHINGTON – A Turkish-born Dutch citizen was sentenced Tuesday to 88 months in prison by a federal judge in Washington, D.C., for providing material support to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a U.S.-designated terrorist group active in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Irfan Demirtas, 58, was a senior European-based fundraiser and recruiter for IMU leader Tahir Yuldashev before Yuldashev was killed in a U.S. drone strike in August 2009, U.S. authorities said.
Demirtas admitted providing at least $65,000 and transporting several Turkish fighters to an IMU training camp during three visits between January 2006 and May 2008, when Yuldashev thanked him for the money and made threats against Americans.
At the time, the IMU was actively battling Afghan and U.S. forces. It has allied itself with the Taliban, al-Qaida and the Islamic State.
“This is an extreme sentence to punish an extreme crime,” U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss of the District said, adding it to the more than five years Demirtas has already served in Dutch and French custody for his activity.
Demirtas denied deliberately financing violence, saying his involvement began as charity work for earthquake victims and that most of the money was spent to buy animals as part of an annual feast. However, Moss said, videos and documents seized in a May 2008 raid on Demirtas’ home in Tilburg, the Netherlands, showed he “was an important fundraiser for the IMU . . . He certainly knew the IMU was committed to violent jihad.”
Excerpts of those videos shown by prosecutors portrayed Yuldashev thanking Demirtas for providing cash and a satellite phone as well as helping bring Turkish fighters from Islamabad’s airport to an IMU camp in South Waziristan, near the Afghanistan border.
Others showed Demirtas firing an AK-47, a machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade with Uzbek fighters, among other activities.
On Tuesday, Demirtas, wearing a thick white beard, prayer cap and orange jail jumpsuit over a long-sleeved white shirt, apologized through an Arabic translator.
“I don’t apologize once, I apologize a thousand times . . . I wish I had never met the Turks,” he said, speaking from a wheelchair while he awaits surgery for a hernia. Demirtas said he had no other criminal record as a youth in Turkey or in his adult life spent in the Netherlands and added that he would commit no crime that would leave his two young children without him as their father.
The IMU continues to exist. It continues to be an ally of the Taliban and al-Qaida, and it has allied itself with ISIL,” or the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for an attack Monday in which a truck plowed through a Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 and injured dozens, Assistant U.S. attorney Michael DiLorenzo said. The U.S. prosecutor argued in court that a lengthy sentence was needed to “deter others in Europe who are considering donating or raising money for these groups.”
Demirtas was sentenced in France to eight years in prison for related activities on Jan. 8, 2013.
Prosecutors there said that Demirtas’ French-based network sent at least $390,000 to the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, with more than half earmarked for Islamist militancy.
Demirtas was returned to the Netherlands and released in July 2013 but was arrested again in Germany in January 2015 based on a 2012 U.S. warrant. He was extradited to the United States in July 2015.
Prosecutors sought a 15-year prison term in addition to the French sentence. Assistant Federal Defender Mary Petras asked Moss for roughly the equivalent of time Demirtas has already served in Dutch, French, German and U.S. custody. With credit for good time, Demirtas could complete his term in about five years.
Prosecutors said they will oppose a request from Demirtas asking to serve his sentence in the Netherlands, where his wife and two of their young children live.
Petras said U.S. authorities overstated Demirtas’ role and ignored his acceptance of responsibility, age, poor health, lack of prior offenses, family circumstances and good conduct – factors that could affect his sentencing calculation under federal guidelines – during a brief period after he was set free by France. Petras cited the harsh terms of Demirtas’s confinement in the D.C. jail, where he spent all but 15 minutes each weekday in a windowless cell before recently being moved to a jail in Orange, Virginia.
“Mr. Demirtas has demonstrated . . . that he will not commit any future crimes, but rather will return to his home in the Netherlands and continue to care for his family,” Petras told Moss, according to court papers.
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