By Jonathan Kaminsky
OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - A California man who prosecutors say was on his way to Syria to join an al Qaeda splinter group was arrested on Monday near the U.S.-Canada border in Washington state on a terrorism charge, federal officials said.
The U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement that 20-year-old Nicholas Teausant, an American-born convert to Islam, had planned to cross into Canada and travel on to Syria to join Islamist militants.
A criminal complaint outlining the accusations against Teausant said he wanted to join an al Qaeda splinter group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which it said was also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
"My designs have me staying there and being on every news station in the world," the criminal complaint quoted Teausant as telling an FBI informant last month.
"I'm going to be a commander and I'm going to be on the front of every single newspaper in the country," he said. "Like I want my face on FBI's top 12 most wanted. Because that means I'm doing something right."
The complaint said Teausant planned to join the group to engage in jihad, or Islamic holy struggle, and to fight the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, which is battling the government of President Bashar al-Assad in that country's civil war.
ISIL, a small but powerful force that emerged from the Sunni Islamist insurgency in neighboring Iraq and has attracted many foreign militants to its ranks, opposes the Assad government but has also fought rival rebel factions.
Teausant also spoke of wanting to target the subway system in Los Angeles on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, according to the U.S. complaint, but discontinued his involvement over fears authorities had caught wind of it.
Teausant was arrested near the border in Blaine, Washington, on a charge of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. A student at San Joaquin Delta Community College in Stockton, California, he was also a member of the U.S. Army National Guard, enlisting in 2012.
But as of December, he was in the process of being released from the National Guard, where he held the rank of private, because he "did not meet the minimum qualifications to continue," according to the complaint. He had not gone through basic U.S. combat training.
He faces a maximum of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted. He is scheduled to appear in federal court in Seattle on Monday afternoon.
(Writing by Jonathan Kaminsky; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)