“Your case is an unusual one,” Judge Leonie Brinkema told Kokayi. “You had an absolutely improper infatuation with this child, and you acted inappropriately on it.”

But, she said, federal guidelines calling for a life sentence were “way out of proportion” for the conduct, she said.

Kokayi lives in Alexandria, worked at the University of Maryland University College and taught the Koran at a mosque in Washington. In court, he apologised to his wife, his family and his friends. Singing in Arabic, he said his fate was ultimately in the hands of God.

“I have many shortcomings and I’ve committed many sins,” he said. “I blame no one but myself.”

Prosecutors asked for a 25-year sentence, arguing Kokayi used his influence as a teacher to sway young girls towards extremism and sexual activity. He sent 16-year-old girls Islamic State videos and other propaganda. He sent them to his mother and friends as well.

Brinkema did not consider that material as part of her sentence, saying the 10-year mandatory minimum already went beyond the punishment she would choose if free to do so. But she did impose 20 years of supervised release, during which Kokayi is barred from any contact with terrorists or terrorist organisations.

He is espousing violence … he was deep in the weeds of this ideology and … promoting that with children
Assistant US Attorney Dennis Fitzpatrick

It was Kokayi’s interest in radical ideology that first attracted the attention of law enforcement, along with his connection to a cleric who has encouraged murder of non-Muslims. One of the videos on extremism Kokayi shared with a teenage student came from his stepfather, Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal, who faces terrorism charges in New York.

“This is a case of an educated and savvy man preying on the vulnerabilities of a 15-year-old girl,” Assistant US Attorney Dennis Fitzpatrick said. “He is espousing violence, he is interested in it, he was deep in the weeds of this ideology and he was promoting that with children.”

Lawyers for Kokayi argued his interactions with the girl and his interest in extremism were overblown. While he sent her sexually explicit images and asked her to meet him in a hotel for sex, she never exposed herself to him and she told an FBI interviewer no real-life contact ever would have happened. Kokayi says he shared the propaganda to provoke discussion and presented his students with opposing views on Islam. He denied wanting to join

Islamic State

.

“These are the very things the founders sought to protect – religious speech and political speech,” defence lawyer Mark Petrovich said. “He’s not espousing terrorism, he’s not espousing violence.”

In letters, friends and family said the episode was an aberration in the life of a devoted son and brother.

“I understand the magnitude of the situation and I wish nothing more than healing for everyone involved,” she wrote to the court.

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