Two men born in Iraq who came to the U.S. as refugees had court dates in California and Texas Friday on terror-related charges, as investigators say one of the men wrote that he wanted to travel to Syria because he was "eager to see blood."
The judge in Texas ordered 24-year-old Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan to be held without bond as he faces charges of trying to provide support to the Islamic State group.
Al Hardan, who speaks Arabic and used an interpreter in court, said he lives in a Houston-area apartment, is married and has a child. He said he earns about $1,800 per month, but did not say his occupation.
He was the 80th person charged under federal law in an ISIS-related case since April 2013, and the first in 2016.
A criminal complaint unsealed Thursday accused 23-year-old Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab, of Sacramento, Calif., of traveling to Syria to fight alongside terrorist organizations and lying to government investigators about it. He appeared in court Friday afternoon.
The court session lasted only six minutes, and Al-Jayab said nothing during the hearing.
He is due back in court on January 22nd for a preliminary examination and where he will hear formal charges.
Neither side spoke after the hearing but I captured a few seconds of sound from the defense attorney as he walked out.
In addition to writing that he was "eager to see blood," Al-Jayab also claimed that he wanted to learn "long range shooting," and that "God has facilitated" his travels, court documents show.
The documents did not indicate whether the two cases were connected. However, the affidavit says Al-Jayab communicated with an unnamed individual living in Texas in April 2013 to see if he could receive training in various weapons.
Both suspects are Palestinians born in Iraq, according to investigators.
Authorities say Al-Jayab, who came to the U.S. from Syria in October 2012, discussed plans to return to Syria and fight alongside terror groups with several other individuals on social media. The complaint says Al-Jayab was living in Wisconsin and Arizona during this period.
Social media and other accounts say that as soon as he arrived in the United States, he began saying he wanted to return to Syria to "work," which the FBI says is believed to be a reference "to assisting in and supporting violent jihad."
Al-Jayab criticized ISIS in several messages for killing Muslims, saying "If it weren't for the State's bloodletting, I would have been the first one to join it", according to the FBI, although he later described fighting alongside the group.
In one communication with the Texas contact, dubbed "Individual I", Al-Jayab described, during earlier fighting, emptying seven ammunition magazines from his assault rifle during a battle and executing three Syrian government soldiers.
According to the complaint, Al-Jayab traveled to Syria from Chicago via Turkey in November 2013. He remained in Syria until the following January and fought alongside several terror groups, including Ansar al-Islam, which merged with ISIS in 2014 after Al-Jayab had returned to the United States. He settled in Sacramento following his return to the U.S.
The complaint alleges that Al-Jayab lied about his travel and ties to terror groups in October 2014 when he was interviewed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. At one point, Al-Jayab allegedly claimed that he had traveled to Turkey to visit his grandmother.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner said in a statment that there was no indication Al-Jayab was planning any terror attacks in the U.S., though he represented a "potential safety threat."
Ben Galloway of the federal defender's office is Al-Jayab's attorney. He did not immediately return telephone and emailed messages Thursday. Al-Jayab faces up to eight years in prison if convicted of making a false statement involving international terrorism.
In the Texas case, the indictment of Hardan states that beginning in May 2014, Hardan "did unlawfully and knowingly attempt to provide material support and resources ... training, expert advice and assistance, to a foreign terrorist organization, namely the Islamic State of Iraq."
The indictment claims that Hardan, who arrived in the U.S. in 2009 and became a legal permanent resident in 2011, concealed his association with ISIS on his citizenship application in August 2014 and lied about receiving machine gun training when he was interviewed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
"Based on the facts, as we know them, today's action may have prevented a catastrophic terror related event in the making and saved countless lives," Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement.
"This is precisely why I called for a halt to refugees entering the U.S. from countries substantially controlled by terrorists," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott addedt. "I once again urge the President to halt the resettlement of these refugees in the United States until there is an effective vetting process that will ensure refugees do not compromise the safety of Americans and Texans."
Later Thursday, federal officials confirmed that three of Al-Jayab's relatives had been arrested in Milwaukee. They said those arrests were not related to national security and there was no threat to the public.