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Brooklyn-born jihadist sentenced to 27 years

Brooklyn Daily
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A federal judge sentenced a Sheepshead Bay man convicted of conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers overseas to 27 years behind bars on March 2 — despite the James Madison High School dropout’s claims that he never meant to harm anyone.

“I admit that I may have had certain radical thoughts and opinions, but I never decided to kill anyone,” 24-year-old Betim Kaziu told Brooklyn federal Judge John Gleeson before his sentencing. “I wish I never went down this path. I regret a lot of the things I did in the past and I just want to go home.”

Judge Gleeson didn’t honor Kaziu’s request, claiming that the homegrown terrorist sympathizer hadn’t learned his lesson in the 29 months that he’s been incarcerated.

“You grew up in Brooklyn and you decided to murder your own country’s soldiers,” Gleeson said. “As a 19-year-old kid you failed miserably in high school and you got swept up in jihad. I doubt your capacity to commit terrorism has been diminished.”

Kaziu, who friends say grew up on E. 17th Street near Avenue X, was found guilty of planning to kill American troops, then traveling onward to Pakistan, where he planned to join al-Qaeda.

Federal prosecutors said Kaziu was very close to his objective: he had already recorded a martyrdom video, which is common for suicide bombers and terrorists who did not plan to come back from a mission.

On the video, Kaziu said that he was would soon depart for jannah — a paradise reserved for martyrs.

Kaziu was arrested in Kosovo in 2009 before he could hurt anyone, but federal prosecutors proved at trial that terrorists had recruited him in his own Brooklyn bedroom — over the Internet.

Some of the most damning evidence in the two-week trial came from Sulejmah Hadzovic, Kaziu’s childhood friend who was also brainwashed by Internet speeches by Anwar al-Awlaki and propaganda videos produced by al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, but never went as far as Kaziu.

During his testimony, Hadzovic said that he and Kaziu went to the same high school. They spent countless hours playing video games and talking about TV shows, but gravitated toward radical Islam after they both dropped out of school.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme claimed that Kaziu traveled to Cairo to join a terrorist cell and had hoped to die a martyr for “the cause of Islam” by fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Hadzovic went to Egypt with Kaziu, but had a change of heart, renounced jihadism and eventually became a government witness.

DuCharme said that while in Cairo, Kaziu tried to acquire automatic weapons and join a Somali terrorist group, but ultimately ended up in Kosovo, where he plotted to kill American soldiers stationed there.

Saved by surveillance tape

Charges have been dropped against a Sheepshead Bay MTA employee who was accused of attacking a police officer in his driveway — until a surveillance tape showed that he did no such thing.

Police arrested John Hockenjos, 55, on Feb. 5 for driving at high speed into his driveway — where a group of undercover cops were responding to a call at his neighbor’s — forcing one of the cops to “jump out of the way,” the Daily News reported.

But Police Officer Diego Palacios’s allegations carried little weight after Hockenjos and his attorney produced surveillance footage taken from the driveway security camera.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes moved to have the charges dropped on March 1 after the surveillance tape was verified.

“I was very worried,” Hockenjos told the Daily News after the charges were dropped. “These were very serious charges against me. I was facing seven years in prison.”

Reach Deputy Editor Thomas Tracy at ttracy@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2525.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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