A Brentwood woman was sentenced Friday to 13 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to a charge of providing more than $150,000 in financial support to the ISIS terrorist organization.
Zoobia Shahnaz, 29, was in addition sentenced to 10 years of supervised release by U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert in Central Islip.
Shahnaz, a U.S. citizen born in Pakistan and a lab technician at a Manhattan hospital, obtained more than $85,000 of the money through a number of fraud schemes and passed the funds on to ISIS in a further complex manner, according to officials.
She was arrested in July 2017 at Kennedy Airport while attempting to board a flight to Turkey, where she intended to illegally enter Syria to join ISIS, officials have said.
Eastern District federal prosecutor Artie McConnell argued for a stiff sentence saying ISIS could have used that money to create massive destruction and death, noting that terrorist attacks around the world have been perpetrated with devices whose ingredients cost as little as $600.
Defense attorney Steven Zissou said before and after the sentencing that his client’s “only goal was to help the suffering of Syrian refugees,” after she had witnessed the carnage in Syria at refugee camps where she had volunteered.
Zissou said the average sentence of someone in his client’s position had been 11 years, with as little 4 years.
Seybert said she was leery of imposing a low sentence, saying that Shahnaz was a highly intelligent person who implemented a complex scheme. The judge noted the defendant came from a loving family and could have worked for much more peaceable organizations.
Saying that Shahnaz has shown “not a shred of contrition — remorse,” Seybert asked if she wanted to speak.
Shahnaz, who displayed no emotion during the sentencing, only said: “I’ll let my attorney speak for me.”
A number of Shahnaz’s family members who were in court declined to comment afterward, as did McConnell.
To illegally obtain the $85,000, Shahnaz fraudulently took out a bank loan for $22,500 and also got 12 credit cards that she used to buy $62,000 in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, officials said.
Shahnaz then wired all the money in small amounts to people or apparent shell entities in Pakistan, China and Turkey that were fronting for ISIS, officials said.
Shahnaz, who pleaded guilty in November 2018, faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison under the terms of a plea bargain.
“Today, the defendant learned the consequences of seeking to join ISIS and funneling thousands of dollars into the terrorist organization’s coffers,” stated Eastern District U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue. “There is no higher priority of the Department of Justice and this Office than protecting our country from those who support violent, hate-filled terrorist organizations.”