With the arrest of unlikely terror suspect Daniel Patrick Boyd, a suburban North Carolina dad who police say led his two sons and a group of others in a U.S.-based jihad movement, fears are mounting that cells wanting to harm Americans could be shifting strategy.
Boyd, 39, is the latest alleged homegrown terrorist who has been charged with targeting Americans and U.S. interests abroad with the help of other Americans recruited as jihadists.
Boyd was arrested Monday with six others, including two of his sons. Authorities claim he was the ringleader of a group that was gearing up for a "violent jihad," though prosecutors haven't detailed any specific targets or timeframe.
If convicted, the men could face life in prison. An eighth suspect is believed to be in Pakistan.
Boyd is the third American indicted recently on charges of radicalism overseas.
Just a week ago, federal authorities said Muslim convert Bryant Neal Vinas of Long Island, N.Y., is in custody for allegedly traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan to train alongside senior Al Qaeda operatives.
And on Monday, a Virginia man was sentenced to life in prison for joining Al Qaeda and plotting to assassinate then-President George W. Bush. Authorities say he joined the Usama bin Laden-led terror network while at college in Saudi Arabia.
Federal authorities issued a bulletin to law enforcement agencies around the country after Boyd's arrest. His devotion to the cause allegedly began 20 years ago.
The internal bulletin says the FBI and the Homeland Security Department are worried about the danger posed by little-noticed Americans traveling abroad to learn terrorism techniques, then coming back to the United States — where they may be dormant for long periods of time while they look for followers to help with future attacks.
Prosecutors said Boyd received terrorist training years ago in Pakistan and brought the teachings back to North Carolina, recruiting followers willing to die as martyrs waging jihad.
The charges "underscore our ongoing concerns about individuals returning to the United States after training or fighting on behalf of extremists overseas," said Justice Department spokesman Richard Kolko.
Frustrated by Raleigh-area mosques that he saw as too moderate, Boyd started breaking away this year to hold prayers in his home, prosecutors said.
In the last two months, he took two group members to private property in north-central North Carolina to practice military tactics and use weapons.
"It's clear from the indictment that the overt acts in the conspiracy were escalating," U.S. Attorney George E.B. Holding said.
Meanwhile an official said Wednesday that Israel denied entry two years ago to Boyd and his family.
Boyd's wife, Sabrina, told a Raleigh newspaper that he and one of their sons flew to Israel in 2007 to visit Muslim holy sites but were stopped and detained for two days.
That followed a trip Boyd made with another son (who is not charged) to Israel a year earlier. She denied any malevolent motive for their visits.
The U.S. indictment said Boyd and the two sons in custody — Zakariya, 20, and Dylan, 22 — traveled to Israel in July 2007 to meet with two of the other defendants but returned home "having failed in their attempt at violent jihad."
An Israeli security official confirmed that members of the Boyd family were blocked from coming into the country in 2007. He declined to say why they were stopped or provide further details.
Israeli police and the Interior Ministry, the office in charge of immigration, would not comment.
In an interview with the News & Observer of Raleigh, Boyd said her husband and sons' trips abroad were pilgrimages.
"The point of a pilgrimage is to see the Al-Aksa mosque, the Dome of the Rock, to hear the call to prayer and to make a prayer," said Sabrina Boyd, 41.
Boyd's wife told the newspaper she knew nothing about the training site cited by prosecutors, and she said the family had firearms because they enjoyed hunting and shooting.
Boyd's neighbors also defended the drywall contractor.
"If he's a terrorist, he's the nicest terrorist I ever met in my life," said Charles Casale, 46, a neighbor in Willow Spring. "I don't think he is."
The other four men arrested range in age from 21 to 33. Only one is not a U.S. citizen, but he is a legal resident.
They face charges of providing material support to terrorism; conspiracy to murder, kidnap, maim and injure persons abroad, and firearms counts. They're due in court Thursday.
Authorities believe the eighth suspect is in Pakistan, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity. A second law enforcement official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the suspect was Jude Kenan Mohammad, 20.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.