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Pakistani doctor who sought to support Islamic State terror group sentenced in Minnesota to 18 years

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Pakistani doctor and former Mayo Clinic research coordinator who sought to join the Islamic State terrorist group to fight in Syria and expressed interest in carrying out attacks on U.S. soil was sentenced Friday to 18 years in prison.

Muhammad Masood, 31, pleaded guilty a year ago to attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Prosecutors said he attempted unsuccessfully to travel from the U.S. to Syria via Jordan in 2020, then agreed to fly from Minneapolis to Los Angeles to meet up with someone he thought would help him travel by cargo ship to IS territory.

But FBI agents arrested him at the Minneapolis airport on March 19, 2020, after he checked in for his flight.

U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson handed down his sentence Friday in St. Paul.

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Prosecutors said Masood was in the U.S. on a work visa. They alleged that starting in January 2020, he made several statements to paid informants — whom he believed were IS members — pledging his allegiance to the group and its leader. Prosecutors also said he expressed a desire to carry out “lone wolf” attacks in the U.S.

An FBI affidavit said agents began investigating in 2020 after learning that someone, later determined to be Masood, had posted messages on an encrypted social media platform indicating an intent to support IS. Masood contacted one of the informants on the platform and said he was a medical doctor with a Pakistani passport and wanted to travel to Syria, Iraq or northern Iran near Afghanistan “to fight on the front line as well as help the wounded brothers,” the document said.

The Mayo Clinic has confirmed that Masood formerly worked at its medical center in the southeastern Minnesota city of Rochester but said he was not employed there when he was arrested.

The Islamic State group took control of large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014, and it drew fighters from across the world. The group lost its hold on that territory in 2019. But United Nations experts said last week that it still commands 5,000 to 7,000 members across its former stronghold, despite recent setbacks, and that its fighters pose the most serious terrorist threat in Afghanistan today.

Minnesota has been a recruiting ground for terrorist groups. Roughly three dozen Minnesotans — mostly men from the state’s large Somali community — have left since 2007 to join al-Shabab — al-Qaida’s affiliate in East Africa, which still controls parts of rural Somalia — or militant groups in Syria including IS. Several others have been convicted on terrorism-related charges for plotting to join or provide support to those groups.