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Sentence vacated for Virginia ‘jihadist’

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated an enhanced sentence for Ali Asad Chandia, a member of a “Virginia jihad network” convicted in 2006 for providing material support to the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Providing “material support” to a terrorist group – for instance, by allegedly seeing that their 21 boxes of paintballs got delivered – does not automatically make an offense a “federal crime of violence,” according to the appellate court.

In 2003, the FBI began investigating Chandia and other members of the Dar al-Arqam Islamic Center in Falls Church. Some Center members, but not Chandia, regularly played paintball to prepare for violent jihad, the FBI charged.

Without the sentencing enhancement for a “federal crime of violence,” Chandia faced a base range of 63 to 78 months. With the section 3A1.4(a) enhancement under the federal sentencing guidelines, Chandia was looking at a range of 360 months to life.

The first time around, the Alexandria U.S. District Court calculated the guidelines range at 360 months to life, but sentenced Chandia to 180 months for a single material support conviction.

The 4th Circuit remanded for the court to explain the enhancement. In particular, the earlier appellate panel rejected the notion that the sentencing enhancement automatically applied to a “material support” conviction. At the second sentencing, the judge said Chandia “knew the purpose of the LET organization” and the enhancement applied.

The court again sentenced Chandia to 180 months in prison because the three counts of conviction were “part and parcel of conduct that was charged in all three offenses.”

Now the Alexandria court gets another chance. In its Sept. 14 unpublished per curiam opinion in U.S. v. Chandia (VLW 010-2-163), the panel said it was “not comfortable holding that Chandia is a defendant who warrants the harsh enhancement.”

“[I]t may seem at first blush that a terrorism-related conviction like Chandia’s is naturally a ‘federal crime of terrorism,’” the court said. But the panel wanted the lower court to resolve factual disputes in the presentence report and relate the facts to Chandia’s motive for providing material support to LET.
By Deborah Elkins

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