U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle sentenced Basit Sheikh to the maximum term under a guilty plea agreement he struck with prosecutors in August, news outlets reported. Sheikh has spent five years in federal custody since his November 2013 arrest at Raleigh's airport on his way to the Middle East.
Sheikh's guilty plea also could cause the Pakistan native with permanent, legal U.S. residency to eventually be kicked out of the country. Sheikh pleaded guilty in August to providing material support to a terrorist group by planning to join al-Qaida-linked fighters. His plea bargain left it up to Boyle to decide whether Sheikh would be released early next year or by late 2020.
Prosecutors said he expressed interest in online conversations with FBI agents or informants in joining the group Jabhat al-Nusra, which was fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops. Sheikh was among the first Americans arrested amid the FBI's attempts to find eager war fighters before they could join Muslim terrorist groups in Syria and perhaps later return home full of anti-American ideology.
The case also was unusual because Sheikh was forcibly medicated for schizophrenia by government doctors so he could be competent to defend himself against prosecution. A federal appeals court ruled in 2016 that Sheikh should be forcibly injected with anti-psychotic medication so he could stand trial.
There were about 110 forcible medication cases considered by federal courts nationwide in the 13 years after a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that restricted involuntary medication to certain serious criminal cases, according to research by Georgetown University law professor Susan McMahon. Courts approved the motions almost two-thirds of the time, according to McMahon.