The two friends from a suburb in northern Illinois believed they were helping train and equip fighters for the Islamic State terrorist organization, federal prosecutors say.
Joseph Jones and Edward Schimenti worked out with one purported jihadist at a gym in Zion, near the Illinois-Wisconsin border, to get him in combat shape, and bought cellphones at a local store they thought would be used as bomb detonators, according to prosecutors.
On Friday, they dropped him off at O'Hare International Airport believing he was traveling to the Middle East to kill infidels in the name of Islamic State.
"Drench that land with they, they blood," Schimenti allegedly said as he and Jones saw him off at the airport.
What Jones and Schimenti didn't know was that the purported Islamic State fighter was actually a U.S. informant and the FBI had been investigating them for nearly two years after red-flagging social media posts supporting terrorist activities, according to prosecutors.
Agents arrested Jones and Schimenti, both 35, on Wednesday morning on a criminal complaint charging them with conspiring to provide material support and resources to Islamic State, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
Reached by phone Wednesday at their St. Louis-area home, Jones' parents expressed shock over the charges, saying their son had been working as a dietary cook and took care of his family, including a wife and young son. They said they were aware their son, who was raised Christian, had converted to Islam but didn't know "to what degree."
"We didn't know he was radicalized like that," said his father, Wayne Jones. "We did not raise our children like that, and we don't believe in that."
According to the 77-page complaint, Jones, also known as Yusuf Abdulhaqq, and Schimenti, who also went by the name Abdul Wali, pledged their allegiance to Islamic State and advocated on social media for violent extremism in support of the terrorist group.
In meetings with informants and undercover agents in Chicago and across the suburbs, the two were captured speaking in glowing terms about Islamic State-inspired events, including the 2015 attacks in Paris where gunmen killed 128 people, as well as an incident last year when a terrorist drove a truck into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people, according to the complaint.
At one point, Jones and Schimenti shared photographs of themselves holding the Islamic State flag at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, according to the complaint.
In recorded conversations, Schimenti also spoke wistfully of having Islamic State's stark brand of Islamic law implemented in the U.S., saying he'd like to see homosexuals dropped from the top of the Sears Tower and the Islamic State flag "on top of the White House," the complaint stated.
The conspiracy charge calls for up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Meisner writes for the Chicago Tribune.
7:15 p.m.: The story was updated with additional information about the investigation into Joseph Jones and Edward Schimenti and their arrest.