By John Shiffman
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Maryland man believed to be the youngest person ever convicted of U.S. terrorism charges may not be deported to Pakistan because he would likely face torture there by government officials, an American judge has ruled.
Mohammed H. Khalid, who legally moved from Pakistan with his family to suburban Baltimore as a young teenager, was arrested in 2011 at age 17 as part of the failed "Jihad Jane" conspiracy to murder a Swedish artist who had blasphemed the Prophet Mohammad.
Khalid pleaded guilty to terrorism charges and cooperated with the FBI more than 20 times, teaching U.S. agents how to combat online jihadists, records show. But when his five-year sentence concluded late last year, U.S. officials sought to deport him to Pakistan, a move his lawyers said would likely subject him to torture.
"This is a huge victory - immigration judges do this in one percent of the cases when someone argues they will be tortured if sent home," said Khalid's lawyer, Wayne Sachs of Philadelphia.
In his decision, Immigration Judge Michael Straus wrote that Khalid "would more likely than not be tortured by government officials if returned to Pakistan." The ruling is dated April 8, but another lawyer for Khalid, Jeffrey Lindy, said it was not made public until late Friday.
A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was not immediately available for comment.
The judge also cited Khalid's diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome, an autism disorder that can affect focus and communication skills. The judge wrote that Khalid "fears his lack of eye contact and social cues would cause the Pakistan government to believe (he) is hiding something, leading to more torture."
Khalid remains in U.S. custody, pending a hearing on whether he can live in the United States or may be deported to another country, Sachs said.
Now 22 years old, Khalid was a high-achieving but socially-misfit high school junior when he met Colleen LaRose, the Pennsylvania woman known as "Jihad Jane," online. They became involved in a foiled plot to kill the Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who had enraged some Muslims by depicting the Prophet Mohammad's head on a dog.
LaRose pleaded guilty to terrorism charges and is serving a 10-year sentence. Prosecutors say the alleged ringleader, Ali Damache, a dual Irish-Algerian national, lured LaRose to Europe with the promise of jihad and marriage. Damache was arrested in Spain in December on the U.S. charges and is fighting extradition.
(Editing by Mary Milliken)