Attorney general's office looks back on first year of expanded terrorism law

SB 1350 allows terrorism-related cases to be heard in state courts. Previously, such cases went straight to federal court.  

Arizona's expanded terrorism law is working, the state attorney general's office said in a recent interview detailing the 2017 statute and recent convictions.

"We will use every tool possible to keep Arizonans safe," spokesperson Katie Conner told Arizona Business Daily in a recent email interview. "We are on the front lines, working side by side with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners in the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force to prosecute anyone plotting or planning a terrorist attack."

Arizona already has a couple of convictions and at least one pending case over the past few years.  

In March 2017, Gov. Doug Ducey signed Senate Bill 1350, which expanded the scope of Arizona's terrorism laws. The legislation also added a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence for convictions.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich  

The legislation was backed by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican who faces a challenge this election from Democrat January Contreras.

The previous year, Arizona had become the first state in the U.S. to prosecute a so-called "terrorist" in state court following the arrest of Mahin Khan. The 18-year-old pled guilty to terrorism and conspiracy counts in October 2016. The following November, Khan was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Khan's parents maintained their son was autistic and unable to care for himself, or commit terrorism.

Conner, the attorney general's offices spokesperson, said the prosecution prompted Brnovich to revise the state's terrorism laws, which he viewed as outdated.

"For example, Khan had been plotting to attack both state facilities and private businesses in Arizona," she said. "Under Arizona's law at the time, Khan could not be prosecuted for terrorism for the private business plots. It was only considered an act of terrorism or a conspiracy to commit terrorism if the target was a state building."

The attorney general worked with state Sen. Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) on SB 1350 to expand the definition of terrorism to include acts of intimidating or coercion to further goals of any foreign terrorist organization, Conner said. The legislation also ensures that statutory protections currently in place for Arizona were extended to the general public and private organizations, she said.

"Additionally, SB 1350 adds a minimum 10-year sentence with a maximum sentence of 25 years," Conner said. "The new legislation also prohibits anyone from providing advice, assistance or direction in the conduct, financing or management of a terrorist organization or from making threats to commit an act of terrorism."

SB 1350 also allows terrorism-related cases to be heard in state courts. Previously, such cases went straight to federal court.

"We believe this is a more forward-leaning approach to detain potential terrorists before they act," Conner said. "Unlike federal laws, Arizona statutes do not require an 'overt act' to prove terrorism conspiracy."

Following the governor's signing of SB 1350, the state successfully convicted Michelle Marie Bastian of Florence, who was sentenced to more than 8 years in prison following her guilty plea on terrorism and conspiracy charges. Her husband, Thomas Orville Bastian, was indicted on four felony terrorism counts of terrorism, currently is awaiting trial.

While Khan's terrorism conviction was a first for Arizona, it was not unique, Conner said.

"Arizona is not the only state to have state terrorism laws," she said. "Several other states have passed anti-terrorism legislation. Mahin Khan was the first terrorism-related case in Arizona tried in a state court, rather than a federal court."

The Khan case has "acted somewhat as a roadmap for other jurisdictions dealing with similar situations," Conner said.

In one such case in Texas, 17-year-old Matin Azizi-Yarand faces terrorism charges, including criminal solicitation of capital murder of a peace officer, following his arrest at Plano West High School in May. If convicted, Azizi-Yarand could be sentenced to life in prison.

The attorney general's office also consults with other jurisdictions, including state and federal agencies, to consider terrorism prosecutions at the state level, Conner said.

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