Texas man charged with aiding anti-U.S. terrorist groups in Afghanistan

U.S. citizen faces 15 years in prison if convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists

A Texas-born man was charged Thursday with conspiring to aid militant groups fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan, becoming the latest American to be prosecuted in federal court on suspicion of assisting terrorist cells overseas.

Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh faces 15 years in prison if convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. He appeared in federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday afternoon following his deportation from Pakistan and was being held without bail.

Farekh, who was not asked to enter a plea, is next due in court in May.

The announcement of the charges against Farekh came on the same day that federal prosecutors in New York announced the indictment of two Queens, N.Y., women on charges of plotting to build a bomb for use against U.S. targets.

That case is unrelated to Farekh's, but prosecutors said the cases underscored the broad reach of terrorist threats against U.S. targets, including by American citizens.

According to a 13-page criminal complaint, Farekh began plotting with two co-conspirators in December 2006 to travel to Pakistan "with the intention of training for violent jihad against U.S. military personnel operating in Afghanistan." At the time, Farekh was a student at the University of Manitoba in Canada.

One of his suspected co-conspirators was Ferid Imam, a Canadian citizen who has been charged in separate terrorism cases in Canada and New York. The other alleged conspirator, a Canadian who has provided information to prosecutors, was not identified, nor were other witnesses cited in the complaint.

Prosecutors say Farekh was inspired, in part, by the preaching of Anwar Awlaki, a radical U.S.-born cleric whose lectures are believed to have inspired several terrorism plots, including the London transit bombings in 2005 and a failed attempt to detonate a bomb in Times Square in 2010. Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone attack in Yemen in 2011.

According to the criminal complaint, Farekh became increasingly religious in 2006 and 2007 and began watching videos about Islamic militancy, including Awlaki lectures. In March 2007, after selling all of his belongings, Farekh left for Pakistan with the two alleged conspirators.

Asked by a friend why he was going to Pakistan, Farekh said it was a "business trip" and laughed when his friend replied that the only thing in Pakistan was jihad, according to the indictment.

Before flying to Pakistan, prosecutors say, Farekh and the other two bought heavy-duty mountain boots and disconnected their mobile phones. Farekh did not tell his grandmother, with whom he had been living in Canada, that he was leaving.

The three traveled to Pakistan on tourist visas, and they never used the return portions of their round-trip air tickets, the indictment says.

Witnesses subsequently identified Imam as the man who trained them at an Al Qaeda camp in Pakistan, prosecutors said. They quoted witnesses as saying Imam boasted that Al Qaeda's training was better than that offered by the Taliban, which "just handed their recruits a gun and sent them off to the battlefield."

Prosecutors did not say when Farekh was arrested, but the indictment was dated Jan. 8, 2015.

In February,Hamza Naj Ahmed, 19, a U.S. citizen who lives in Minneapolis, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of trying to aidIslamic State terrorists and giving false information in a terrorism investigation.

And in January, a federal judge sentenced a Colorado woman to four years in prisonafter she tried to board a flight from Denver to Turkey. Shannon Maureen Conley, 19, pleaded guilty toone count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

In exchange for a lighter sentence, she agreed to help authorities identify and prosecute those trying to recruit others into militant Islamist groups.

tina.susman@latimes.com

Twitter: @tinasusman

Times staff writer Kurtis Lee in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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