A New York man was sentenced on July 14 to life in prison on one count of conspiracy to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and five substantive counts of providing material support to ISIS in the forms of personnel, including himself, Australian citizen Jake Bilardi and others, as well as services, weapons, property and equipment, and false documentation and identification, all between January 2013 and June 2017, when the defendant was arrested in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
According to court documents, Mirsad Kandic, 41, of Brooklyn and Kosovo, was convicted by a federal jury in May 2022 following a three-week trial in Brooklyn.
After several failed attempts to travel from the United States to Istanbul, Turkey, Kandic took a two-day Greyhound bus ride from New York City to Monterrey, Mexico, in November 2013, and flew through Panama, Brazil, Portugal, Germany, Kosovo, and Turkey before arriving in Syria at the end of 2013. Once in Syria, the defendant joined ISIS and became a fighter for the group in Haritan, an ISIS stronghold in the outskirts of Aleppo, wielding Russian-made PK machine guns and AK-47 assault rifles.
ISIS leadership then sent the defendant to Turkey to take up the role of smuggling foreign fighters and weapons into Syria from abroad, and to serve as an emir for ISIS media. Kandic disseminated ISIS recruitment messages and gruesome propaganda using more than 120 Twitter accounts. For example, the defendant sent out an ISIS-produced “documentary” titled “Flames of War.” This video celebrated ISIS conquests and macabre executions of ISIS captives, including instances where victims were forced to dig their own graves before being summarily executed by gunshot. The defendant tweeted that this video was the “best thing ever seen on screen.”
Kandic was a prolific recruiter of foreign fighters for ISIS. He sent thousands of radicalized ISIS volunteer fighters from Western countries into ISIS-controlled territories in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. This included a fellow New Yorker, Ruslan Maratovich Asainov, who became an ISIS sniper and sniper trainer, and another individual who became an emir for ISIS safehouses in the Idlib province of Syria. Asainov was convicted after trial in February 2023 of conspiracy to provide material support to ISIS, two substantive counts of providing material support to ISIS, one count of receiving military-type training from ISIS, and obstruction of justice. He is awaiting sentencing.
A foreign fighter recruited by the defendant was Jake Bilardi of Australia. Bilardi contacted the defendant in June 2014 for assistance in traveling to Syria to join ISIS. Kandic provided Bilardi – who had just turned 18 years old and had never traveled internationally before – with instructions and guidance for reaching Istanbul, Turkey. Kandic then arranged for Bilardi to be picked up at the airport in Istanbul and smuggled him into Syria. Kandic maintained contact with Bilardi as he became an ISIS fighter and ISIS suicide bomber. Bilardi went on to commit a suicide truck attack with fellow ISIS members on March 11, 2015, in Ramadi Iraq, killing himself, more than 30 Iraqi soldiers and an Iraqi policeman. Prior to the attack, the defendant wished Bilardi well and stated, “May Allah make there [sic] inner organs implode.” Bilardi’s attack was coordinated with others committed at the same time; 30 members of the Iraqi military were killed, 61 were injured, and 25 were missing, whose bodies were never found, all as a result of this coordinated series of attacks. After the attack, the defendant celebrated Bilardi’s service to ISIS, on Twitter and to a co-conspirator. A member of the Iraqi Army general staff testified at trial that the March 11, 2015, attack paved the way for ISIS’s takeover of Ramadi and the Anbar Province of Iraq several weeks later.
Kandic also provided battlefield intelligence to top ISIS leadership. He also shaped the information environment in which ISIS operated by enforcing ISIS media and publicity discipline. For example, the defendant directed other ISIS supporters to refrain from posting any information about the success (or failure) of ISIS recruitment efforts as well as to minimize any reporting about ISIS military action in specific military actions. Kandic managed money for ISIS fighters in Syria, including two ISIS fighters who gave the defendant their bank cards, from which bank records showed more than $40,000 was transacted. Kandic smuggled weapons to ISIS in Syria, including a night vision scope for an ISIS sniper. Kandic operated a private market via Telegram – called “Khilafah (Caliphate) Market” – for which he was the group administrator with authority to restrict access to the group. Members posted firearms and military equipment for sale, including mortars and suicide belts (i.e., improvised explosive devices). Among the members of Kandic’s private Telegram market was Abu Luqman, who, at the time, was the ISIS governor for the Raqqa province, ISIS’s de facto capital in Syria.
“Serving ISIS’s deadly terror campaign, this defendant fought on the battlefield, spread propaganda, smuggled weapons, and radicalized Western recruits,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “The National Security Division was created to counter foreign terrorist organizations like ISIS and, with our partners, we remain committed to identifying and holding accountable those who provide support to such terrorist groups.”
“Kandic was a high-ranking member of ISIS who relished the death and destruction he wrought while providing every conceivable form of material support to a terrorist organization, including the recruitment of countless others to ISIS’s bloody campaigns in Syria and elsewhere,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York. “Today’s sentence holds the defendant accountable for his conduct and ensures that he will never again pose a threat to the United States or any of our allies. This office will remain relentless in prosecuting terrorists who threaten the safety and security of the United States and U.S. interests around the world.”
“The defendant in this case provided numerous forms of material support to ISIS for years, and today, he was brought to justice for his actions,” said Assistant Director Robert R. Wells of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division. “This sentencing demonstrates the serious commitment of the FBI and our law enforcement partners around the world to investigating and holding accountable terrorists who threaten the safety and security of American interests, and those of our allies.”
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Saritha Komatireddy and J. Matthew Haggans for the Eastern District of New York are prosecuting the case, with assistance from Paralegal Specialist Huda Abouchaer and Trial Attorney Jennifer Levy of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.
The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the FBI’s Legal Attachés abroad and foreign authorities in multiple countries on three continents provided critical assistance in this case. The Bosnian and Herzegovina State Investigation and Protection Agency, the Bosnian and Herzegovina State Intelligence and Security Agency, the Bosnian and Herzegovina Foreigners’ Affairs Service, the Bosnian and Herzegovina State Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of Justice of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Australian Federal Police, the Victoria Police (Australia), the Australian Border Force, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Australian Attorney-General’s Department, the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Joint Operations Command in Iraq, and the FBI Legal Attaché Offices in Sarajevo, Canberra, Nur-Sultan, and Baghdad, provided extraordinary assistance in the investigation and prosecution. The Ministry of Justice for the Republic of Finland, and Federal Office of Justice in the Federal Republic of Germany, the Department of Justice & Constitutional Development in the Republic of South Africa and the central authorities responsible for mutual legal assistance in Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Ukraine; and the FBI’s Legal Attaché Offices in those countries provided valuable support in the investigation.