Two Brooklyn, New York, roommates who sought to go to Syria and join Islamic State were charged with conspiring to support the terror group that controls a swath of Iraq and Syria and publicly executes its captives.
Also charged was a mall kiosk operator accused of helping buy them plane tickets.
The U.S. is leading a coalition of nations in a battle against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL or ISIS, with air attacks. The Sunni Muslim insurgent group's recruiting in the U.S. "represents an evolving threat to our country and to our allies," Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement.
The latest case "sends shivers down the spine of New Yorkers and clearly underscores that we must remain ever- vigilant in the face of terror threats," U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in a statement.
Akhror Saidakhmetov, a 19-year-old Kazakh national, was arrested as he was preparing to leave from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to Syria by way of Turkey, according to prosecutors. His roommate, Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, a 24-year-old citizen of Uzbekistan, had planned a similar trip for next month, prosecutors said.
The third man, Abror Habibov, 30, also an Uzbek national, operates mall kiosks in Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and employed Saidakhmetov, according to prosecutors. He was arrested in Florida and is in federal custody.
Juraboev and Saidakhmetov "confessed" to federal investigators that "the purpose of their travel was to go to Syria and join ISIS and wage jihad on behalf ISIS," Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Pravda told U.S. Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom Wednesday when the two appeared in Brooklyn federal court.
The pair, both dressed in hooded sweatshirts and jeans, said little during the appearance. Bloom denied them bail. All three suspects face a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted.
The men came to the attention of law enforcement last year after Juraboev and Saidakhmetov expressed support online for the establishment of an Islamic state, prosecutors said.
Juraboev had posted to an Uzbek-language website that he wanted to "shoot Obama" to "strike fear into the hearts of infidels," according to a complaint unsealed Wednesday in federal court.
When federal agents interviewed him in August, Juraboev acknowledged he wrote and posted the message and said he would harm U.S. President Barack Obama if he had the opportunity to do so, not "because of ill will toward him, but rather because of Allah," according to the complaint.
Saidakhmetov also posted to the website and said he wanted to travel to Syria, prosecutors alleged.
While speaking to a third roommate, who was paid to serve as an informant to federal agents and wasn't named in court documents, Saidakhmetov said he was worried he couldn't make the journey because his mother "feared" he would wage jihad and "took his passport so he could not travel," according to the complaint.
Stuck in the U.S., Saidakhmetov said in recorded conversations that he wanted to join the American military to learn information that could help Islamic State or that he would "just go and buy a machine gun, AK-47, go out and shoot all the police," according to the complaint.
'Kill the FBI'
"We will go to FBI headquarters, kill the FBI people," he said, according to the complaint..
The informant eventually helped Saidakhmetov obtain substitute travel documents, prosecutors alleged.
"The defendants violated the true tenets of their faith in pursuit of their radical, violent agenda," Federal Bureau of Investigation Assistant Director in Charge Diego Rodriguez said in a statement.
Along with killing Obama, Juraboev told federal agents that he would also "plant a bomb on Coney Island if he were so ordered," according to the complaint.
In electronic communications with an Iraq-based administrator of the propaganda website "Islamic State News," Juraboev said: "I am in the land of infidels" and added he might be arrested by U.S. authorities because "of what I told them about Obama," according to the complaint.
The case is U.S. v. Juraboev, 15-mj-00172, U.S.District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
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