RALEIGH, N.C. – A North Carolina man is facing federal charges that he sought to join an Al Qaeda-linked militant group fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Basit Javed Sheikh, 29, of Cary, is charged in a federal criminal indictment with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. He was arrested on Nov. 2 before boarding the first of a series of flights that would take him to Lebanon.
Sheikh told an FBI informant he was going to join the group called the Nusrah Front in Syria, an FBI agent said in a sworn affidavit obtained by The Associated Press.
The Pakistan native was assigned two federal public defenders to represent him during a court hearing last week. The defense attorneys could not be reached Monday because their office was closed for the Veterans Day holiday. Messages to phone numbers listed for Sheikh were not returned Monday.
For five months this year, Sheikh, also known as Abdul Basit, posted messages and videos on Facebook expressing support for jihadi militants fighting Assad's forces in the bloody, 3-year-old Syrian civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people, said the affidavit signed by FBI Special Agent Jason Maslow.
In August, Sheikh began an online relationship with an FBI undercover employee on a Facebook page promoting Islamic extremism, the affidavit said.
Sheikh told the covert informant in early September that he'd bought a one-way ticket to travel to Turkey in hopes of making contact with people who would get him to Syria. Sheikh said he backed out because "he could not muster the strength to leave his parents," the affidavit said. Sheikh said he had traveled to Turkey last year hoping to join the fight in Syria, but became dispirited by his experience with people who claimed to be part of the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army.
Four years ago, eight Raleigh-area Muslims were arrested on charges they were behind a homegrown terror plot to attack the U.S. Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va., and perceived overseas enemies of Islam. Seven either pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges or were convicted at trial. The last, Jude Kenan Mohammad, was among four Americans confirmed as being killed by drones in either Pakistan or Yeman since 2009, the Obama administration said in May.
If convicted, Sheikh could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison and fined $250,000.