‘Misguided’ hacker who gave ISIL ‘hit-list’ of U.S. military targets sentenced to 20 years

by WorldTribune Staff, September 25, 2016

A 20-year-old native of Kosovo who provided Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) a list of more than 1,000 U.S. government workers has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Ardit Ferizi, who was arrested last year in Malaysia, admitted hacking a private company and pulling out the names, email passwords and phone numbers of about 1,300 people with .gov and .mil addresses. ISIL published the names and threatened attacks on those listed.

Ardit Ferizi
Ardit Ferizi

“This was a hit-list,” assistant U.S. attorney Brandon Van Grack said. “The point was to find these individuals and hit them, to ‘strike at their necks,’ ” he said, quoting the language ISIL used when it published the names.

As a teenager, Ferizi avoided jail time for hacking into Kosovar government databases. He went to Malaysia to study cybersecurity, but continued his hacking activities.

In asking for a much lighter sentence, six years, defense lawyers had argued that Ferizi meant no real harm and was not a true ISIL supporter.

“He was a nonsensical, misguided teenager who did not know what he was doing,” said public defender Elizabeth Mullin. “He has never embraced ISIL’s ideology.”

Van Grack disputed the defense’s claim that Ferizi’s crime was a whim. Before turning over the names to the “Islamic State hacking division” last year, he operated a website devoted to disseminating ISIL propaganda. In online conversations, Ferizi defended ISIL, and when he gave the list to the terror group, he knew he was putting the people named in ISIL’s crosshairs, Van Grack said.

“The defendant’s conduct has indefinitely put the lives of 1,300 military members and government workers at risk.”

Ferizi, when asked directly by U.S. district judge Leonie Brinkema for an explanation, said “I feel so bad for what I did. I am very sorry for what I did, making people feel scared.”

Van Grack quoted a letter from one of the victims, who said she had an easily identifiable name and was now nervous when she interacted with Muslims, something she felt guilty about. And Van Grack cited another terrorism case in northern Virginia, in which the defendant, Haris Qamar, allegedly used a hit-list, similar to the one Ferizi created, to stake out the homes of two neighbors in the town of Burke.

Mullin countered that no one on the list has actually been harmed, and said much of the information Ferizi helped disseminate was already publicly available.

Ferizi met an ISIL recruiter on the Internet while he was trying to expose online pedophiles, his lawyers claimed.