The Buzz

After SC teen tried to join ISIS, House lawmakers crack down on would-be terrorists

The S.C. House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a bill giving local and state law enforcement more teeth to investigate and prosecute would-be terrorists in South Carolina.

The legislation criminalizes the act of "furthering terrorism," stiffening penalties for people who intend to commit terrorism and those who financially support a terrorist act.

The bill, proposed by House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope, R-York, will head to the Senate after a perfunctory final vote Thursday.

South Carolina already has a terrorism law on the books, but it pertains mostly to weapons of mass destruction — not more modern methods of domestic terrorism, lawmakers said.

No House member voted against the bill, which passed in a 111-0 vote. But it did have opponents.

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford did not vote Wednesday for or against the bill. But the Richland Democrat has skewered the bill as a waste of time and money, saying its lengthy penalties would discourage parents and teachers from reporting their youths.

”This is not about the business of the state that we should be considering, which is how to prevent attacks,” Rutherford said last month.

Three years ago, a York County teenager was arrested by local police after the then 16-year-old teen of Syrian descent bought two guns and planned to join ISIS. Zakaryia Abdin pleaded guilty and was sentenced spend the next few years in juvenile jail. But a year later, a parole board released Abdin, noting his sole conviction was only on a gun charge.

"He was underage, and we ultimately had to deal with it in family court," Pope said Wednesday. "Ultimately, the only charge that we could provide there was possession of a firearm. He was collecting firearms ... working in conjunction with a cell in North Carolina that was going to attack a military base and a school."

Abdin eventually was arrested by the FBI last year after he tried to board a plane from the Charleston airport and join ISIS.

Pope's original bill imposed a mandatory minimum prison sentence of at least a decade for someone who plots a terror attack and five years for anyone who helps to fund or support an attack. The House rid the bill of mandatory minimums in an amended version Wednesday.

Pope's bill also prohibits judges or parole boards from releasing offenders early.

“If this can happen in York — in rural, small town South Carolina — it can happen anywhere,” York Police Department Chief Andy Robinson told a S.C. House committee in March. “Nowhere is immune to any of this.”

Maayan Schechter: 803-771-8657, @MaayanSchechter