Two men have been arrested in Texas and separately charged with terror-related offenses after federal agents said they planned to travel halfway around the world to engage in violent jihad.
One of the men, a Bangladesh-born U.S. citizen named Rahatul Ashikim Khan, allegedly wanted to join al-Shabab, a Somalia-based terror group linked to al Qaeda. For the other, Michael Todd Wolfe from Houston, learning to fight in Syria was allegedly the goal.
According to charging documents, Wolfe's wife met an undercover FBI agent in August 2013 and told the agent she and her husband wanted to "perform a violent form of jihad" outside of the United States. She said Wolfe "just wants to hop into Syria. He's just ready to die for his deen [religion]. He's ready to die for someone, for something," court documents say.
Over several months, another undercover FBI agent met with Wolfe, and they discussed Wolfe's plans for going overseas, according to the court documents. On Jan. 22, both undercover FBI agents met with Wolfe and his wife, and Wolfe "indicated that he had learned that al Qaeda in Syria was training brothers from other countries (foreign fighters) and then sending those fighters back from Syria to their home countries to conduct terror attacks," the FBI says in court documents. A month later, one of the FBI agents allegedly watched a YouTube video about foreign fighters in Syria with Wolfe and his wife.
They were planning to use some of their estimated $5,000 tax refund to pay for their travel, prosecutors say.
In subsequent meetings with undercover agents, Wolfe allegedly expressed dismay over infighting among terrorist groups in Syria, and he "struggled" with whether to actually go. Then Tuesday, Wolfe and his family went to George Bush International Airport, attempting to board a flight to Toronto and then make their way to Syria. Instead, Wolfe was arrested, accused of attempting to provide "material support and resources to terrorists, including but not limited to personnel, including himself."
Khan became a U.S. citizen in 2002 and is a full-time student at University of Texas-Austin, which is now on summer recess.
According to charging documents in his case, in early 2011, Khan began communicating with an informant in an online chat room, which he used "as a platform to spot and assess potential recruits for committing violent jihad overseas."
Khan introduced the informant to an unidentified co-conspirator, possibly in Florida, who then attempted to recruit the informant to travel to Somalia to engage in jihad there, prosecutors say in court documents. The co-conspirator then introduced the informant to another person, also likely in Florida, who discussed how Khan could get to Somalia to join the terrorist group al-Shabab.
In June 2011, Khan told the informant that his brain "starts bleeding" when he sees weak "bengalis" who have "no love for jihad" and "no love to shed blood," authorities allege.
The arrests come a month after the Justice Department asked a special prosecutor in its National Security Division to help lead U.S. efforts aimed at stemming the flow of American fighters to the civil war in Syria. Top law enforcement officials have said they're concerned the young men and women could possibly return home, freshly trained in deadly operations, and unleash havoc on the homeland.