In rapid-fire motion, teams of federal agents on Saturday night demonstrated how quickly they can move to thwart young American recruits from traveling to the Middle East to join the Islamic State.
First, agents monitored a young suburban Chicago man as he passed through security screening at O’Hare International Airport with plans to fly to Istanbul, Turkey. A second team then executed a warrant to search his home, where agents found documents supporting the radical Islamic movement that appeared to have been drafted by the youth, according to an FBI affidavit.
With that evidence in hand, agents from the FBI’s Chicago Counter-terrorism Task Force swooped in and arrested 19-year-old Mohammed Hamzah Khan, a U.S. citizen, as he awaited his international flight at O’Hare.
On Monday, prosecutors charged Khan with one count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
It was not immediately clear how the FBI got wind of Khan’s alleged plan. The Justice Department said he had purchased a roundtrip ticket to Istanbul on Sept. 26.
He faces a maximum penalty of a $250,000 fine and 15 years in prison, though federal sentencing guidelines require the court to impose a reasonable sentence.
It marked at least the third time in the last month that federal agents have arrested Americans alleged to have been attempting to support the Jihadists’ fight in Iraq and Syria and underscores the challenge facing the FBI and other federal agents as they cast a nationwide net to try to intercept U.S. recruits bound for the Middle East or Islamic State operatives attempting to retaliate for recent U.S. airstrikes.
On Sept. 16, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that a federal grand jury in Rochester, N.Y., had indicted 30-year-old Mufid Elgeeh, a local resident, on charges of attempting to aid the Islamic State. He also was charged with one count of attempted murder of current and former members of the U.S. military, one count of possessing firearms equipped with silencers in furtherance of a crime of violence and two counts of receipt and possession of unregistered firearm silencers.
The Justice Department said that Elfgeeh attempted to recruit three individuals, two of whom were cooperating with the FBI, in traveling to Syria to join the fight on behalf of ISIS.
At the time, Holder said that his apprehension shows that federal agents and prosecutors “are using all the investigative tools at our disposal to break up these plots before individuals can put their plants into action.”
“We are focused on breaking up these activities on the front end, before supporters of ISIL can make good on plans to travel to the region or recruit sympathizers to this cause,” Holder said, using another acronym for the Islamic State.
On Sept. 10, a 19-year-old Colorado woman, Shannon Conley, pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy count alleging she plotted early this year to support al Qaida in Iraq and the Islamic State in fighting Syria. Conley had met her co-conspirator on the Internet, shared common definitions of Islam as calling for fighting violent Jihad and soon decided to become engaged, federal prosecutors said. They then worked to have Conley travel to Syria to join her new fiancé, according to court documents.