A ‘misunderstood’ Islamic State groomer who convinced an Australian teenager to become a suicide bomber will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Mirsad Kandic, 40, was sentenced to life in jail for charges relating to terrorism and his role in causing the death of 18-year-old Jake Bilardi in New York on Saturday.
Bilardi shocked Australia with a suicide bomb attack in Ramadi, in central Iraq, about 110km west of Baghdad and 1,300km from his home in Melbourne, in March 2015.
After Bilardi’s mother died of cancer, he became radicalised by the terrorist group in his bedroom after meeting an ISIS mastermind online.
Kandic fought the charges, which he described as ‘discrimination and Islamophobia’, while maintaining that he wasn’t aware of any US laws he had broken, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Mirsad Kandic, 40, (pictured) was sentenced to life in jail for charges relating to terrorism and his role in causing the death of 18-year-old Jake Bilardi in New York on Saturday
Bilardi (pictured) shocked Australia with a suicide bomb attack in Ramadi, in central Iraq, about 110km west of Baghdad and 1,300km from his home in Melbourne, in March 2015
Kandic had been villainised, he told a New York court before the sentencing was handed down.
‘I’m not a violent person, I’ve never been a violent person,’ Kandic told the court.
‘I’ve never harmed anyone and nor do I ever intend to.’
He offered an apology to the court and for ‘those who have found themselves being offended or harmed by me’.
‘For my actions … I seek forgiveness and I repent to my lord every day, 100 times a day,’ he said.
Kandic was told that his radicalization of the teen was ‘evil’ and that his beliefs had been turned towards sadism.
‘This is about taking one’s beliefs and turning them into hatred and murder,’ New York Eastern District Judge Nicholas Garaufis told the Brooklyn court.
‘We have an obligation to say never again, no more – that it’s not going to happen on our watch.
‘Jake Bilardi did not deserve to die and he didn’t deserve to kill anybody. He deserved to be spared at 18 years of age – the opportunity to become an adult, deal with his problems, and be a member of his community.’
Before the sentencing was read to the court, Mr Garaufis asked Kandic if he was ready to hear it only for the room to remain silent.
‘I’m not going to wait for an answer,’ Mr Garaufis said before sentencing Kandic to life in prison.
Kandic was a high-ranking member in ISIS who was responsible for recruiting overseas radicals and sending them to fight in Syria.
An investigation revealed how Bilardi became Kandic’s target, and how he smuggled the teen into the Middle East before planning what Bilardi described as a ‘huge coordinated’ suicide mission.
Numerous phone calls were also uncovered from desperate family members of Bilardi who begged the teenager to reconsider his newfound beliefs.
Upon sentencing, the court was told Kandic had never shown remorse for the bombing in Ramadi and how radicalising Bilardi prior to it had been a ‘powerful shot in the arm for ISIS and its propaganda’ by Assistant US Attorney Matthew Haggans.
Mr Haggans continued: ‘Bilardi did what he did after he was trafficked by this defendant, inspired by this defendant, encouraged by this defendant.’
After Bilardi’s mother died to cancer, he became radicalised by the terrorist group in his bedroom after meeting an ISIS mastermind online
Bilardi blew himself up in a suicide mission targeting the Iraqi armed forces at Ramadi roughly seven months after arriving in the Middle East
Kandic recruited hundreds of foreigners to fight for his terrorist causes from December 2013 through to June 2017.
These recruits would not only fight for ISIS, but also smuggle weapons, equipment and money into the area.
In order to reach so many people, Kandic operated more than 120 Twitter accounts to spread his word.
He would routinely share gruesome propoganda, including footage taken from executions – one of which he had previously labelled the ‘best thing ever seen on screen’.
In the video prisoners were forced to dig their own graves before being shot and killed.
Bilardi was inducted as shy and vulnerable teenager who sought solace after his single mother died in 2012.
Bilardi was angry he had not found a way to leave Melbourne and fight overseas and noted down his frustration in his blog ‘From Melbourne to Ramadi: My Journey’.
‘How was I to get in? I had no contacts to assist me,’ he wrote. ‘After failed attempts at finding a contact I gave up all hope.’
Soon after posting these entries to his journal, Bilardi met Kandic who said he would be able to help the teenager get into Syria.
New York Eastern District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said Bilardi (left) ‘deserved to be spared at 18 years of age … deal with his problems, and be a member of his community’
Bilardi was gaven him a checklist of things to do in preparation which included learning Arabic, doing cardio to train for battles, and fly to Istanbul pretending to be a tourist.
He paid extra for his passport to be expedited before booking a flight Istanbul for August 25, 2014.
Bilardi called his brother Chris in October where he was pressured to return home.
‘I don’t know what it’s achieving,’ Chris said. ‘It’s achieving maybe something for you, because you think that it’s benefiting you, that you go to heaven or something.
‘But it’s not benefiting anybody else. You’re going to be killing innocent people.’
Shortly afterwards Bilardi was given his orders to join seven other suicide bombers for a mission in the northern Iraq city Baiji.
It was called off just before Bilardi was set to detonate his bomb and it would not be until March 2015 when he was given his new orders.
Bilardi then blew himself up in a suicide mission targeting the Iraqi armed forces at Ramadi in central Iraq.
The attack was a failure: nobody was killed and just a few vehicles were damaged.
Chilling extract from Bilardi’s blog
‘With my martyrdom operation drawing closer, I want to tell you my story, how I came from being an Atheist school student in affluent Melbourne to a soldier of the Khilafah preparing to sacrifice my life for Islam in Ramadi, Iraq.
Many people in Australia probably think they know the story, but the truth is, this is something that has remained between myself and Allah (azza wa’jal) until now.
‘My life in Melbourne’s working-class suburbs was, despite having its ups and downs just like everyone else, very comfortable.
I found myself excelling in my studies, just as my siblings had, and had dreamed of becoming a political journalist.
I always dreamed that one day I would travel to countries such as Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan to cover the situations in these lands…
‘Being just five-years-old at the time of the attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001, my knowledge of the operation was basically non-existent…
‘It was from my investigations into the invasions and occupations of both Iraq and Afghanistan that gave birth to my disdain for the United States and its allies, including Australia.
It was also the start of my respect for the mujahideen that would only grow to develop into a love of Islam and ultimately bring me here to the Islamic State, but I’ll get to that later…
‘I guess I was always destined to stand here as a soldier in the army of Shaykh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (May Allah have mercy upon him) considering the great respect I had for him even before I entered Islam.
May Allah accept him among the best of shuhadah and allow me to sit with him in the highest ranks of Jannah…
‘Fearing possible attempts by the increasingly-intrusive authorities in Australia to prevent my departure [to the Middle East] I began drawing up a Plan B.
‘This plan involved launching a string of bombings across Melbourne, targeting foreign consulates and political/military targets as well as grenade and knife attacks on shopping centres and cafes and culminating with myself detonating a belt of explosives amongst the kuffar.
As I began collecting materials for the explosives and prepared to start making the devices I realised that the authorities were oblivious to my plans but if anything was to attract their attention it would be my purchasing of chemicals and other bomb-making materials and so I ceased the planning of Plan B and sat waiting until everything was prepared and I could exit the country undetected.’