Can Parents' Divorce Push a Teen to Join Al-Qaeda?

An 18-year-old convert to Islam from Long Island, Justin Kaliebe, has pled guilty to trying to join Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), a Yemeni group affiliated with al-Qaeda. He is facing a thirty-year prison sentence. But not so fast, says his lawyer, Anthony LaPinta. “Justin Kaliebe,” LaPinta insists, “is a gentle, misguided, autistic teenager who does not have the ability to fully understand the magnitude and consequences of his actions.” In other words, in the immortal words of the “Officer Krupke” song from West Side Story, he’s depraved on account he’s deprived.

According to Bilal Hito, who attends the same mosque Kaliebe has frequented in Bay Shore, Long Island, Kaliebe’s parents divorced when he was just three or four years old. A news report identified Kaliebe as hailing from “Babylon and Bay Shore, N.Y.,” suggesting a dreary home life shuttling back and forth between parents engaged in a polite cold war. And Hito said that the boy just wasn’t right: “There was something about Justin that made you feel you were around a little boy. Mentally he was very young. He was more like a kid brother.”

Kaliebe’s friend Ahmad Deib, who also knows Kaliebe from the Bay Shore mosque, vehemently dismissed the jihad terror charges against Kaliebe. “That, to me, is a bunch of garbage. This is a case of entrapment. This kid, he couldn’t hurt a fly. He is one of the most kindhearted kids you would ever know.”

As gentle and autistic, mentally young and kindhearted as he may be, Kaliebe certainly seemed to be fully aware of what he was trying to do. Undercover officers caught him pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda and jihad leaders: “I pledge my loyalty, allegiance and fidelity to the Mujahedeen of Al-Qaa’idah in the Arabian Peninsula and its leaders, Shaykh Abu Baseer Nasir Al-Wuhayshi and Shaykh Ayman Al-Zawahiri, hafidhahum Allah [may Allah protect them]! May Allah accept this from me and may he allow me to fight in his cause til the day that I leave this dunya [world].”