Three Central Asian men have been arrested in the United States and charged with conspiring to support the Islamic State. The charges underscore the threat of lone wolf attacks by people inspired to fight for the Islamic State without ever having traveled to the Middle East, American officials say.
The three live in Brooklyn, New York, news agencies reported.
Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19, of Kazakhstan, was arrested February 25 when boarding a flight to Turkey, the Justice Department says. Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, 24, of Uzbekistan, had purchased a flight to Istanbul for next month. Thirty-year-old Uzbekistani citizen Abror Habibov was arrested in Florida and accused of paying for Saidakhmetov’s efforts.
According to the New York Times, Juraboev and Saidakhmetov are permanent residents in the US; Habibov had overstayed his US visa. All three remain citizens of their countries, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, however.
It is unclear how many Central Asians are fighting for IS in Syria and Iraq, or if the suspects had any connection to compatriots there.
Investigators used a paid, confidential informant who posed as a sympathizer to record conversations between two of the men.
In those comments, Saidakhmetov allegedly said that if he were unable to travel to Syria, he would “just go a buy a machine gun, AK-47, go out and shoot all police,” Reuters reported:
Juraboev drew the attention of federal agents when he posted messages on an Uzbek-language website stating his desire to join Islamic State and his willingness to kill U.S. President Barack Obama. A U.S.-led coalition has been fighting Islamic State, which controls swaths of Iraq and Syria.
Agents interviewed Juraboev at his home in August 2014, when he acknowledged wanting to fight for Islamic State in Syria and confirmed he would be willing to harm Obama, according to the criminal complaint.
He also told the agents about a friend, Saidakhmetov, who shared similar views, the complaint said.
"This is real," RFE/RL quotes New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton as saying. "This is the concern about the lone wolf, inspired to act without ever going to the Mideast.”
FBI Director James Comey said the cases underscore the growing threat of IS in the United States.
“I have homegrown violent extremist investigations in every single state,” Comey said in a speech in Washington, the New York Times reported. IS, he said, “is putting out a siren song through their slick propaganda through social media that goes like this: ‘Troubled soul, come to the caliphate, you will live a life of glory, these are the apocalyptic end times, you will find a life of meaning here fighting for our so-called caliphate, and if you can’t come, kill somebody where you are.’ ”
The three suspects have been ordered held without bail. They face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.