NEW YORK (AP) – Three men accused of plotting to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group and wage war against the United States were arrested Wednesday on terrorism charges, including one who spoke of attacking President Barack Obama or planting a bomb on Coney Island, federal officials said.
Akhror Saidakhmetov was arrested at Kennedy Airport, where he was attempting to board a flight to Istanbul, authorities said. Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev had a ticket to travel to Istanbul next month and was arrested in Brooklyn, federal prosecutors said. Abror Habibov, 30, accused of helping fund Saidakhmetov’s efforts, was arrested in Florida.
They are charged with attempt and conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization. If convicted, each faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
Habibov appeared in federal court in Jacksonville, Florida, and was appointed a public defender. The other two men were in custody, and it was not clear if they had attorneys who could comment on the charges. They were scheduled to appear in federal court in Brooklyn later Wednesday.
Saidakhmetov is a Brooklyn resident and citizen of Kazakhstan. Juraboev and Habibov are residents of Brooklyn and citizens of Uzbekistan.
Federal prosecutors say Juraboev, 24, first came to the attention of law enforcement in August, when he posted on an Uzbek-language website that propagates the Islamic State ideology.
“Greetings! We too want to pledge our allegiance and commit ourselves while not present there,” he wrote, according to federal authorities. “Is it possible to commit ourselves as dedicated martyrs anyway while here?”
Officials said they believed he planned to travel from Turkey to Syria to join the terror group. Prosecutors say Saidakhmetov, 19, also threatened an attack in the U.S. if he was unable to join the Islamic State. Juraboev’s plans included attacks against Obama or planting a bomb on Coney Island, officials said.
Federal officials say Juraboev identified Saidakhmetov as a friend and co-worker with a shared ideology. The two exchanged messages on how to get overseas, and Saidakhmetov and an informant watched videos of Islamic State training camps in Syria, according to court papers.
Habibov operates kiosks that repair phones and sell kitchenware in malls in Jacksonville, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and Philadelphia. He employed Saidakhmetov last fall and winter and said he would help fund his travel, though he did not mention a specific sum of money, prosecutors said. The two were spotted in Brooklyn purchasing a ticket for Saidakhmetov to travel to Turkey, officials said.
The Islamic State group largely consists of Sunni militants from Iraq and Syria but has also drawn fighters from across the Muslim world and Europe.
Federal officials have expressed alarm at the idea that Americans could travel to Syria to fight alongside the Islamic State or train there and return to the United States to carry out attacks against the homeland.
There have been more than 20 arrests in the U.S. in the last year of people trying to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State or other extremist groups.
In one recent case, 19-year-old Hamza Ahmed of Minneapolis was indicted last week on charges associated with supporting the Islamic State group. Ahmed had been arrested in New York in November while apparently trying to fly to Syria.
Shannon Maureen Conley, a 19-year-old Colorado woman who tried to board a flight from Denver to join the Islamic State, was sentenced last month to 48 months in federal prison. Authorities said Conley wanted to marry a man she had met online who said he was fighting with the extremists.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report from Washington.