Elkhart woman admits to aiding terrorists

Samantha Elhassani

HAMMOND — A former Elkhart woman has admitted to providing material support to Islamic State terrorists.

Samantha Elhassani, 33, pleaded guilty Monday to financing terrorism in an agreement that sets a maximum 10-year sentence for the federal crime. She was accused of conspiring to provide tactical gear and funds to Islamic State fighters in 2014 and 2015, despite knowing that the group is a terrorist organization, and of making false statements to the FBI.

The counts against Elhassani were included in an indictment handed down in March 2018. She was transferred from the custody of the Syrian Democratic Forces to U.S. law enforcement in July 2018. 

She initially denied the charges, saying her Moroccan husband tricked her into traveling with their four children to Syria, where he became an IS militant and died fighting. She and the children ended up in a Kurdish detention camp.

In her plea agreement, she admitted that she learned in November 2014 that her husband and his brother wanted to travel to Syria to live in the Caliphate and join the Islamic State. Between then and April 2015, she helped the two men join the IS by making three trips to Hong Kong.

During the first two trips, she transported more than $30,000 in cash and gold and deposited it in a safe deposit box in Hong Kong. Elhassani concealed the gold by melting it down to look like jewelry and didn’t disclose the cash or gold on customs declaration forms.

She acknowledged that she knew the two men intended to use the money to support the IS.

According to her plea, which was negotiated with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, she is entitled to a two-level reduction in the level of her offense in recognition for her acceptance of responsibility. The final decision on that is up to the court.

Elhassani could also be subject to a lifetime of supervised release and a $250,000 fine, according to her plea. The terms are contingent on her continuing to accept responsibility and to not deny her involvement or give conflicting statements.

Judge Philip Simon, with U.S. District Court in Hammond, set sentencing for March 5. He also canceled her jury trial scheduled for Jan. 6.

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