The latest American to face federal charges related to Islamic State never actually joined the group — but may still face 30 years in prison.
According to The Washington Post, Asher Abid Khan of Spring, Texas was indecisive about joining the extremist group last year at the age of 19. He went so far as flying to Turkey, but sitting in the airport he called his grief-stricken father and said, “I want to come home.”
Nevertheless, in May the FBI charged Khan, now 20, with “attempting to provide material support” to the group. As evidence, they produced copious online messages between Khan and his friends, in which he expressed desire to die as a martyr for Islam. (RELATED: Another Texas Resident Arrested For Supporting Islamic State)
Khan was living in Australia with a relative, shortly after graduating high school, when he and a friend from the Houston area devised a plan to cross Turkey’s border with Syria and join Islamic State. His friend, Mexican-born Muslim convert Sixto Ramiro Garcia, did wind up making the journey. Garcia’s social media posts as an Islamic State fighter were what finally pushed the FBI to investigate Khan, long after he gave up on jihad and came back to Texas.
One heartbreaking message from Khan to Garcia after they went their separate ways shows how the ex-radical’s religion ultimately trumped his interest in terrorism. He wrote: “make sure they are doing everything according to Islam… not killing innocent ppl and all that.”
Other online exchanges published by the Post reveal that when he was considering jihad, Khan was often clueless and naive. The U.S.-born son of Pakistani immigrants had a few Arab friends in the Houston area. He asked one Iraqi-born friend from high school, Mais Suied, “do you know Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?” (RELATED: US-Accented Podcast Is Tip Of ISIS Marketing Spear)
“Nope,” replied Suied, she had not met the leader of the terrorist group before moving to the U.S. in 2008.
And while he had expressed extremist beliefs, Khan’s lawyer Thomas Berg — a retired Army Reserve colonel with experience at Guantanamo Bay and in Afghanistan — called the posts as “a lot of talk and Facebook crap.”
The Post’s report suggests that federal policies have kept the FBI from taking a more proactive approach with Khan. Khan “came home and did the right thing,” says Berg. “If the government was smart, they would exploit that,” serving as an example of a vulnerable Muslim who considered and ultimately rejected Islamic State’s ideology.
But an anonymous official told the Post that “we err on the side of caution,” even though Khan “may be on the path to deradicalization.”
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