- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 19, 2016

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) - A New York man who admitted trying to join an al-Qaida affiliate is heard on a video made days before his January 2013 arrest saying he had no qualms about traveling to the Middle East to join the terror organization.

“I pledge my loyalty, allegiance and fidelity” to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Justin Kaliebe tells an undercover operative posing as an al-Qaida official during a recorded conversation inside a vehicle.

The video was played Tuesday during a pre-sentencing hearing for Kaliebe, who was an 18-year-old Long Island high school senior when he was arrested three days after the recording was made.

Kaliebe pleaded guilty to a charge of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization. He faces up to 30 years when he is sentenced later this year.

Kaliebe’s defense attorney has been engaged in a court fight for the past several years, arguing his client was suffering from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, and did not understand the consequences of his actions. He also argues that the then-teenager was suffering from a condition that delayed puberty, which also may have impacted his mental state.

The attorney, Anthony LaPinta, is trying to have Kaliebe’s health issues taken into consideration as mitigating factors before U.S. District Court Judge Denis Hurley imposes sentence.

A forensic psychologist hired by the government testified Tuesday that Kaliebe understood the consequences of his actions and “had an ability to understand right from wrong.”

LaPinta challenged Dr. N.G. Berrill’s findings, and got the psychologist to concede he never interviewed any of Kaliebe’s family about the teen’s health issues, or other psychologists who had treated him.

Kaliebe, who converted to Islam, apparently was swept up in the New York Police Department’s investigation into the activities of Muslims throughout the region. Counterterrorism agents and NYPD officers intercepted him on Jan. 21, 2013, as he tried to board a flight to Oman at John F. Kennedy International Airport on his way to Yemen.

According to court papers, Kaliebe told an undercover operative pretending to be a confidant, “There is no way out for me. … The only way out is martyrdom.”

LaPinta has insisted Kaliebe was an impressionable loner from a dysfunctional family who had been bullied in school and that he was ensnared by a government investigation that began when he was just 16 years old.

In the video played Tuesday, the operative is heard telling Kaliebe that he did not have to go forward with his travel plans, and that no one would blame him if he opted out. Kaliebe, however, insists on the recording that he is committed. “There are no limitations … there is nothing that I won’t do,” he tells the operative, at one point saying he would rather spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement in prison rather than back out.

Berrill said Kaliebe admitted to him that he thought the offer by the operative to reconsider may have been a test.

“He wasn’t sure if wasn’t a test of his mettle,” Berrill said.

Another pre-sentencing hearing is set for Aug. 2.


Follow Eltman on Twitter at @feltman41

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