A former Mayo Clinic researcher was sentenced to 18 years in prison for plotting to aid ISIS

A former Mayo Clinic research coordinator was sentenced Friday to 18 years in federal prison for attempting to provide material support to ISIS, a designated foreign terrorist organization.

Muhammad Masood, 31, who lived in Rochester, pleaded guilty to the charge in August in St. Paul federal court. He was a licensed physician in Pakistan and worked at the Rochester-based Mayo Clinic on an H-1B visa prior to his arrest.

Jordan Kushner, Massoud’s lawyer, blamed his client’s actions on mental illness. But Chief US District Judge Paul Magnuson told Masoud that regardless of these cases, “First and foremost, you sit in this court as a convicted terrorist. That’s the way it works.”

Magnusson noted that Masoud said before his arrest: “I will kill or be killed.”

Masood apologized to Magnusson, saying his life was falling apart at the time, and that he now wanted to set a positive example for his siblings. He asked to serve his sentence in a prison in Massachusetts, where his brother lives. Magnuson said he would make that recommendation, but it is up to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

According to the criminal complaint filed in 2020, Massoud wanted to fight for ISIS in Syria as a combat medic and spoke of his desire to commit a “lone wolf” attack. In a Bloomington hotel, he met an undercover FBI informant who he believed would help him join ISIS, and was recorded in a video conference with someone he believed to be an outside leader.

According to the Public Prosecution, Massoud made multiple statements about his desire to join ISIS, and pledged allegiance to the organization and its leader.

On March 19, 2020, Massoud was arrested in the Minneapolis-St. Paul is arrested by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force as he prepares to fly to Los Angeles to meet with another person he believes will put him on a cargo ship to Syria.

Masoud, who was dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, was escorted into the courtroom by two American security guards for the 90-minute hearing.

Kushner said that while Massoud pleaded guilty to providing material support to a terrorist group, he did not participate in terrorism and therefore was not a terrorist. He said Masood had talked about going to Syria to provide medical assistance but had not committed acts of violence, and emphasized that guidelines calling for a longer sentence for terrorists should not apply to him.

Kushner added that Masoud was hospitalized in Pakistan with bipolar disorder, and that his mental condition deteriorated after the breakdown of his marriage in the United States.

However, Assistant US Attorney Andrew Winter noted that Massoud said someone like him belonged on the battlefield. According to prosecution documents, Massoud told an FBI informant that he wanted to “fight on the front lines as well as help wounded brothers.”

Masoud’s brother addressed the judge, saying that Masoud “never wished to harm anyone” and that although his actions could not be justified, he was not a malicious person. The brother broke down in tears and was unable to finish his sentence, and left the courtroom for a while.

At the start of the hearing, Magnuson said the maximum legal penalty was 20 years. At the end of the hearing, he said that Masoud would be sentenced to a slightly shorter period, citing his participation in therapy sessions and cooperation with the authorities at Sherborne County Jail where he has been imprisoned for three and a half years since his arrest.

After the hearing, Kushner said that Masood’s mental illness should have received more attention and that he would appeal the verdict. He also expressed his disappointment that after hearing the arguments, Magnuson announced a short break and then issued a seven-page memorandum to the parties outlining his conclusions.

Kushner said Magnuson “made up his mind before the hearing,” and added, “What is the purpose of presenting arguments if the judge has made up his mind?”

Tasha Zerna, public affairs officer for the US Attorney’s Office, said the plaintiffs had no comment on the ruling other than a short press release.

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