CHICAGO (AP) — An American teenager who expressed disgust with Western society was arrested at a Chicago airport, from where he intended to travel to Turkey so that he could sneak into Syria to join the Islamic State group, according to criminal complaint released Monday.
Members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested Mohammed Hamzah Khan, a 19-year-old U.S. citizen from Bolingbrook, on Saturday at O’Hare International Airport. Khan is charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, and a federal judge has ordered him held until a detention hearing Thursday.
On Monday, the slight, bearded Khan appeared in a federal court in orange jail clothes, calmly telling the federal magistrate that he understood the allegations. Later, as marshals were leading him away in handcuffs, he turned to smile at his parents at the back of the room.
There are about 12 Americans believed to be fighting in Syria right now, FBI Director James Comey said two weeks ago. There are more than 100 Americans who have either tried to go to Syria and were arrested, or went and came back to the U.S., Comey said, without offering more details.
According to prosecutors, Khan was trying to fly to Istanbul by way of Vienna when customs officers stopped him while he was going through security at O’Hare’s international terminal. While FBI agents interviewed him there, others executed a search warrant at Khan’s home and found documents he wrote expressing support for the Islamic State group.
One page in a notebook had a drawing of what appeared to be an armed fighter with an Islamic State group flag and the words “Come to Jihad” written in Arabic, according to the criminal complaint.
Agents also found a handwritten three-page letter from Khan to his parents in which he informs them he was on his way to Syria and the Islamic State, saying he was upset his U.S. taxes were going to kill his “Muslim brothers and sisters,” the complaint says.
“We are all witness that the western societies are getting more immoral day by day,” the letter says. “I do not want my kids being exposed to filth like this.” He also invites his parents to join him one day.
Khan purchased the Austrian Airlines ticket to Turkey in late September. Among the notes found at his home were drawings with arrows indicating where he might make border crossings into Syria, the complaint states. It says in the note to his parents, Khan warned them in capital letters, “FIRST and FOREMOST, PLEASE MAKE SURE NOT TO TELL THE AUTHORITIES.”
During the FBI interview at the airport, Khan allegedly said he was supposed to reach a contact in Istanbul who would then put him in touch with members of the Islamic State group. Asked by agents what he would do there, Khan allegedly said he would, in the words of the complaint, “be involved in some type of public service, a police force, humanitarian work or a combat role.”
It wasn’t clear why authorities chose to stop Khan, whether they had been tipped off that day or had been watching him for days in advance. Neither prosecutors nor Khan’s attorney spoke after Monday’s hearing.
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