A Virginia judge has ruled that Seifullah Chapman, 45, will be freed after serving 14 years of his 65-year sentence on terrorism charges, the New York Post reported.
Chapman, an American citizen, was a member of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant terrorist group and traveled to Pakistan in August 2001 to train in its camps. He also trained for combat by playing paintball in the U.S., according to published reports.
He was in his 20s when he joined a group of terrorism supporters in Northern Virginia, and was 31 when he was convicted in 2004.
Why is this happening?
Chapman's early release stems from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding the definition of a violent crime. As a result, U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema ordered on Thursday that Chapman be released, the Washington Post reported.
Brinkema wrote that while Chapman’s actions “occurred at the periphery of — and in some cases, with the intent to support — violent actions undertaken by others...none of these actions involved either Chapman’s actual use of force or a substantial risk that Chapman would use force.”
The high court in April ruled that the language describing a “crime of violence in immigration law is unconstitutionally vague,” the report continued. And that led to the review of Chapman’s sentence.
Federal courts across the nation are now contending with the impact of the Supreme court decision in Sessions v. Dimaya in criminal cases, the report noted. Brinkema is one of the first judges to rule on the issue.
She agreed with the Justice Department that charges can remain if the facts indicate a “serious potential risk.” But she found that Chapman’s actions did not meet that criteria and ordered him released after 14 years.
During the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Chapman was firing weapons and participating in military drills at a training camp run by Lashkar-e-Taiba. The Pakistani militant group was later designated as a terrorist organization, according to the Washington Post.
Following the 9/11 attacks, he came back to the U.S. and stayed in touch with people he knew in Pakistan, the report states. He also helped a member of the group obtain drone equipment.
Chapman also became involved in a paintball group in Virginia that was preparing to use the game as training to fight abroad, the report states. Additionally, he sold two rifles, and one of the sales went to a man later convicted of joining Al Qaeda.
John Zwerling, who represented Chapman at trial, said he was pleased to learn that his client will be released.
“The result of that case has nagged at me for 14 years,” Zwerling told the Washington Post. “He never intended to hurt anybody; it was such a miscarriage of justice. Finally, justice prevails, but it took way too long.”