Three men from former Soviet Central Asian republics were arrested in the United States on Wednesday and charged with conspiring to support the Islamic State, also known as IS or ISIL. Two of the men were planning to travel to Syria, authorities say.
The arrests come at a time when governments around the world are struggling to diminish the impact of IS's propaganda war and quell the flow of foreign fighters to Syria.
“The flow of foreign fighters to Syria represents an evolving threat to our country and to our allies,” said Loretta Lynch, US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, in a statement.
“We will vigorously prosecute those who attempt to travel to Syria to wage violent jihad on behalf of ISIL and those who support them. Anyone who threatens our citizens and our allies, here or abroad, will face the full force of American justice,” added Ms. Lynch, who is also President Obama's nominee for the next US attorney general.
The three men arrested were Akhror Saidakhmetov from Kazakhstan, Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev from Uzbekistan, and Abror Habibov, also from Uzbekistan. All three men were residents of Brooklyn, N.Y., according to authorities, and two were legal permanent residents of the US, said New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton during a press conference Wednesday.
Mr. Juraboev was first noticed by law enforcement in August 2014 after he posted a message on an Uzbek-language website that promulgated IS ideology, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement, referencing the criminal complaint against the men. A subsequent investigation found that Juraboev and Mr. Saidakhmetov planned to travel to Turkey and then to Syria to wage jihad on behalf of IS, the FBI said. Investigators recorded conversations between the two men using an informant who posed as a sympathizer and approached Juraboev at a mosque.
The men were not arrested in August because the FBI wanted to collect additional intelligence about the hierarchy and organizational structure of IS supporters in the US, said Diego Rodriguez, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York field office.
Saidakhmetov was arrested early Wednesday morning at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport after attempting to board a flight to Istanbul, Turkey. Juraboev had previously bought a plane ticket to travel to Istanbul, and his flight was scheduled for March, the FBI said. He was arrested at his home in New York. Mr. Habibov was arrested in Florida and is accused by FBI of helping to fund Saidakhmetov’s attempt to join IS.
In the August message posted on the Uzbek-language website, Juraboev said he would kill the president of the United States if IS ordered him to do so, according to the FBI. Saidakhmetov also intended to commit an act of terrorism in the US if he couldn't travel abroad to join IS, the FBI said.
"I will just go ... buy a machine gun, AK-47, go out and shoot all police," Saidakhmetov said during a recorded conversation, according to Reuters, which cited the criminal complaint.
The arrests come about a month and a half after a September 2014 message from IS was rereleased, calling for supporters to “rise up and kill intelligence officers, police officers, soldiers, and civilians” in the US, France, Australia, and Canada.
Earlier this month, six Bosnians living in the US were also charged with aiding IS. The group collected money to be transferred to intermediaries in Syria and Iraq, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing the indictment against the six.
Americans who fight abroad may face a variety of criminal charges depending on the specific details of their case and whom they are fighting for, writes Gregory S. McNeal in Forbes.
Although Central Asian governments have attempted to crack down on extremism within their borders, analysts suspect that IS has effectively targeted Central Asian nationals for recruitment. A report published last month by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group claimed that up to 4,000 recruits from Central Asia had joined IS in Syria and Iraq. Many of these recruits are from the Fergana Valley, an ethnically diverse region that includes eastern Uzbekistan. The Kazakh National Security Committee estimates that about 300 from that country, about half of them women, are fighting in Syria for IS.
Juraboev and Saidakhmetov appeared in federal court in New York Wednesday and were ordered held without bail, according to the Associated Press. Habibov, appearing in federal court in Florida, was also held without bail, AP said. Each defendant faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison if convicted.