HAMMOND — A federal judge refused to release an Indiana woman, who is the widow of an ISIS terrorist, from jail although he said she has a compelling defense.
U.S. District Court Judge Philip Simon ruled Thursday that Samantha “Sally” Elhassani, 32, of Elkhart, Indiana, must remain in custody at the Porter County Jail prior to her trial, now scheduled for Jan. 6, 2020.
Last week, her attorneys made an emergency request to the court for her release from Porter County Jail, where she has been held since July, because of her deteriorating mental health.
Defense attorney Thomas A. Durkin warned Elhassani is being given medicine in the jail for symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, but if she isn't released to receive more intensive therapy, she will be mentally incapacitated by the time of her trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joshua P. Kolar and Abizer Zanzi argued she is a liar, a flight risk and a danger to the public who traveled three times in early 2015 to China and the Middle East — with two of her young children — to acquire telescopic rifle sights and image-stabilized binoculars for her husband, who became a sniper for ISIS.
Kolar said she helped produce an ISIS propaganda video featuring her 9-year-old son, with a rifle scope, as a future ISIS warrior.
Durkin argued it was "absurd" the government was charging her with conspiracy to provide ISIS material support since she was forced to do so by her "maniac" husband.
"When you are married to a crazy man who abuses you, you do what the crazy man says. This woman is a victim of a crazy man."
Durkin said ISIS considered Elhassani an American spy and that's why they tortured and raped her an ISIS prison in Raqqa, Syria, once the capital of the ISIS caliphate. He said ironically Elhassani was a paid FBI informant at one time, making the charges against her a betrayal by the U.S. government.
Zanzi countered that Elhassani's information to the FBI wasn't on terrorist matters and "she lied to the FBI."
Zanzi said Elhassani has told a tangle of inconsistent stories to the media to rehabilitate her image as a reluctant wife of a radical. However, he said there is no evidence — beyond her own words — her husband abused her. The husband was killed in Syria.
The judge said, "the defense has a compelling case," but added "her credibility may be challenged at trial."
He said weight of the evidence of her travels, the danger in which she put her children and the lack of permanent roots within the community prompted him to deny her release.
He said he found the video of her son being coached on how to use a suicide belt to be "disturbing." He noted that Elhassani also had been recently captured on a jail security camera throwing a full mug of coffee at a fellow inmate.
Lori Sally, a sister of the defendant, attended Thursday's hearing and told reporters during a break in the proceedings that she "agreed with both sides on a lot," but that they had also misconstrued some things her sister as well.
"Sam(antha) knew he was crazy before he left. She was warned."
Elhassani is pleading not guilty to government charges that she conspired from fall 2014 through summer 2015 to provide gold, money, tactical gear and other material support to ISIS.
She, her husband and children left America in 2015 to vacation in Turkey. Her husband moved them to Syria where he became a sniper for ISIS in the midst of a long-simmering civil war. She returned to the United States, where she was arrested, after her husband was killed.
Durkin said Elhassani’s children are in the custody of the Indiana Department of Child Services as of July. He said there are plans to move some if not all the children to other family in Oklahoma.