Former DePaul University student gets 7.5 years for trying to help Islamic State with computer program

Thomas Osadzinski’s prosecution was believed to be the first of its kind when it began three years ago — a terrorism case brought against a U.S.-based defendant involving computer code.

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The Dirksen Federal Courthouse, where Mustafaa Saleh pleaded guilty to wire fraud in the scheme involving the Cook County Land Bank Authority, the county agency where he formerly worked.

The Dirksen Federal Courthouse

Sun-Times file

An unusual terrorism case in Chicago came to a close Thursday when a federal judge handed a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence to a former DePaul University student who tried to aid the Islamic State with a computer script. 

Before he was sentenced, Thomas Osadzinski, 23, told U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman that, “I failed everyone, and I failed myself.” He told the judge, “I was in a dark place when all of this happened and, looking back, I see how alone I felt.”

He also told the judge, “I completely reject ISIS.” And when Gettleman handed down the sentence, he gave credit to Osadzinski for that declaration. He said, “I think that you get it.”

“You have shown remorse,” Gettleman added. “Is it genuine? I hope so.”

The judge also gave Osadzinski 10 years of supervised release.

Osadzinski’s prosecution was believed to be the first of its kind when it began three years ago — a terrorism case brought against a U.S.-based defendant involving computer code. At trial in October 2021, Osadzinski’s lawyers insisted it ran up against fundamental questions about free speech. 

Prosecutors said Osadzinski designed a process that uses a computer script to make Islamic State propaganda more conveniently accessed and disseminated by users on the social media platform Telegram.

Defense attorney Joshua Herman argued at trial that Osadzinski acted independently. He said “parallel advocacy is not illegal,” and he insisted to jurors that “the First Amendment includes a right to say things that are disfavored. That are reprehensible. That are vile.”

He also said “there must be coordination with” or direction from, the Islamic State to find Osadzinski guilty. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Melody Wells argued there was “nothing independent about this.” She told jurors Osadzinski had been responding to Islamic State propaganda, which urged supporters to “strive patiently in the digital arena.”

In the end, the jury convicted Osadzinski of attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State after a trial that featured roughly two weeks of evidence.

Wells and Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas urged the judge Thursday to give Osadzinski a 15-year prison sentence. They alleged that Osadzinski had also hoped to distract the FBI by distributing Islamic State videos on Reddit.

“The plan was to divert law enforcement’s attention to investigate innocent Reddit users who watch his videos, to allow ISIS members who could access the videos on Telegram to continue their mission without law enforcement interference,” they wrote.

Additionally, the feds alleged that Osadzinski bragged about narrating a video produced by a group supportive of the Islamic State. Titled “The Fighting Has Just Begun,” the video allegedly urged people to “return the flames of war into the countries of aggressors.” 

A song in the video allegedly also urged people to “go and answer the call, don’t spare none, kill them all, it is now time to rise, slit their throats watch them die.”

When Osadzinski was arrested in November 2019, prosecutors said authorities searched his apartment. They said they found evidence that Osadzinski had been researching the agent who handled his investigation. They also discovered a crude, two-panel drawing of an FBI agent stating, “Stop there terrorist” while the “terrorist” pointed a gun at the agent.

In the second panel, the agent appeared to be lying dead in a pool of blood.

Jonas said the agent in question was also involved in the terrorism prosecution of two Zion men, Joseph D. Jones and Edward Schimenti. When the agent testified in that case, Jonas said security precautions were taken out of concern that Osadzinski might show up.

Finally, Jonas told the judge that, when agents took Osadzinski into custody, he resisted. The prosecutor said four FBI agents were needed to arrest Osadzinski, who once said, “I will never go to their false manmade court.”

While sentencing Osadzinski on Thursday, Gettleman told him that resisting arrest was “not something you should be proud of.”

Osadzinski interrupted and said, “I’m not.”

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