A 21-year-old Hawaii man is in federal custody on charges that he traveled to Pakistan to join the Taliban, lied about it to U.S. officials, tried to recruit another person to join him, and created several websites to spread violent jihadist ideology.
The FBI arrested Abdel Hameed Shehadeh in Honolulu Friday.
He appeared this afternoon in U.S. District Court and agreed to be sent to New York, where he is charged with making false statements involving domestic and international terrorism.
The government says Shehadeh lived in New York in 2008, when he flew to Pakistan on a one-way ticket. He returned to the United States when the Pakistani government refused him entry.
Federal prosecutors said Shehadeh later tried to enlist in the U.S. Army but was rejected because the service learned of his earlier trip to Pakistan and his statements to officials about the trip.
Shehadeh claimed he wanted to enlist for career opportunities and benefits, but the complaint alleged his true motive was to deploy to Iraq, where he intended to desert and fight against the U.S. military alongside Iraqi insurgent forces.
According to an 18-page FBI affidavit, Shehadeh came to Hawaii in April 2009. On Oct. 14, 2009, he visited the SWAT Gun Club in Honolulu and paid $115 to fire an M-16 assault rifle, a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, a 9 mm pistol, a 12-gauge shotgun and a .44 Magnum, the FBI said.
“The Honolulu FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force worked closely with our New York counterparts throughout this investigation. It is important to note that at no time was there any evidence of a terrorist plot targeting the Hawaiian islands in this case,” said Charlene B. Thornton, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Honolulu division.
Shehadeh faces a maximum sentence of eight years in prison if he is convicted of making false statements in a matter involving international terrorism.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Honolulu referred questions concerning the case to the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, N.Y., which didn’t immediately return an after-hours call seeking comment.
It was unknown Monday night if Shehadeh had an attorney.
According to the complaint, Shehadeh, a U.S. citizen, lived on Staten Island, N.Y., in early 2008 when he devised a plan to travel to Pakistan to join the Taliban or a similar fighting group.
Under questioning by FBI agents and New York police detectives, Shehadeh initially said he traveled to Pakistan to visit an Islamic university and attend a friend’s wedding, the release said.
The complaint alleged Shehadeh subsequently admitted to FBI agents in Hawaii that the true purpose of his trip to Pakistan was to join a fighting group such as the Taliban.
The FBI also alleged Shehadeh attempted to recruit another person to join him immediately after the two discussed a sermon by radical U.S.-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
In addition, the complaint alleged Shehadeh created and administered multiple websites dedicated to spreading violent jihadist ideology.
“As this case demonstrates, we and our partners in law enforcement are committed to preventing terrorist acts before the plots can be set in motion,” Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in the news release. “We will spare no effort, and will deploy all available resources, to accomplish this mission.”