ISIS militants hold up their weapons and wave flags as they ride in a convoy, which includes multiple Toyota pickup trucks, through Raqqa city. AP
A New York man who travelled to Turkey to join ISIS said on Monday he thought it would be the best way to help victims of Syria's war and that he never wanted to be a fighter, as prosecutors claimed.
Before being sentenced to 15 years in prison for attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organisation, Arafat Nagi said his goal was to provide humanitarian aid.
But it was a claim US district judge Richard Arcara said he struggled to believe after looking at Nagi's graphic and violent social media posts and a photo of him wearing camouflage clothing and posing with an assault-style rifle, his face, except for his eyes, covered in black.
"How would you go out and give humanitarian aid wearing this kind of an outfit?" Mr Arcara asked Nagi, a 47-year-old American-born grandfather.
Assistant US Attorney Timothy Lynch said Nagi bought body armour and other military gear before reaching out to a member of the "Lackawanna Six" – a group of men from his city who went to prison for providing material support to Al Qaeda – for advice on what to pack for the Middle East.
He also shared numerous images and videos of people being drowned, burnt and beheaded and publicly pledged his loyalty to ISIS leaders, prosecutors said. While in Turkey, Nagi was in contact with other ISIS supporters, Mr Lynch said.
"That's not humanitarian," the prosecutor said.
Nagi's first trip, in 2012, was cut short by illness. He told relatives he did not enter Syria as planned during a 2014 trip because he thought Turkish police were following him. Nagi was preparing for a third journey to Turkey, with plans to continue to Syria when he was arrested in July 2015, authorities said.
"He was going not to save people, judge, but to kill people," Mr Lynch said.
Nagi, bearded and with his greying hair in a ponytail, was supported in court by several men, women and at least one young child, some of whom left the courtroom in tears while the judge explained why he was imposing the maximum sentence.
In a letter to the judge, Nagi had said he had been moved by media reports of atrocities in Syria and video of Syrians pleading for help.
"I let my emotions take over without thinking," he wrote. "I wanted to help the people of Syria in any way I could. The most well organised group in Syria was ISIS."
His lawyer, Jeremy Schwartz, said Nagi's judgment had been clouded by too much medication and that he is "sort of mortified" by the sum of his social media posts.
Philip Frigm, assistant special agent-in-charge of the FBI in Buffalo, said Nagi was seen as a threat to the US after falling short in his efforts to join terrorists overseas.
"When they're frustrated in those efforts, they may turn around and change those tactics," Mr Frigm said. "We've seen it before, when individuals will then act out within the United States borders."