Federal prosecutors in Philadelphia unsealed an indictment Thursday charging a Howard County teenager with conspiring with a suburban Pennsylvania woman known as "Jihad Jane" to provide material support to terrorists.
Mohammad Hassan Khalid, a Pakistani citizen and Maryland resident who graduated from Mount Hebron High School this year, is accused of using the Internet to recruit people and solicit funds for a violent jihadist war in South Asia and Europe.
He was indicted alongside Ali Charaf Damache, a 46-year-old Algerian man living in Ireland, and allegedly acted under the direction of Colleen R. LaRose, who dubbed herself "Jihad Jane" online, according to the indictment. LaRose, 47, pleaded guilty in February to conspiring to provide terrorist support and kill in a foreign country, attempted identity theft and making false statements to federal investigators.
Khalid, who was arrested in Ellicott City on July 6, is scheduled to be arraigned Monday morning in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia. He will plead not guilty, according to his lawyer there, Jeffrey M. Lindy.
"The charges are unbelievably serious, and we think they're inappropriate and inaccurate, and we really intend on defending [him]," Lindy said. "The family is devastated."
Khalid, now 18, was a budding writer who received an honorable mention in a CityLit contest last year for an essay titled "Voices Around the World" and had won a full scholarship to the Johns Hopkins University, which he planned to attend this fall. But he was arrested before classes began and has since withdrawn.
He could be sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted.
The indictment against him claims that beginning in 2008 or 2009, he worked with other conspirators, including LaRose, Damache and another American woman, to create a "a violent jihad organization" with people from the U.S. and Europe, who were to be divided into teams and assigned various tasks, including planning, research, finance and "action."
Some of the members were expected to travel to South Asia for "explosives training" and return to Europe, where they would wage holy war, the 14-page court filing claims.
It's unclear from the indictment how Khalid connected with LaRose.
The Pennsylvania woman had posted a comment on YouTube in June 2008, calling herself "JihadJane" and saying that she was "desperate to do something to help our Ummah [the Muslim people]," according to prosecutors.
She dreamed of being a martyr, they said, and had accepted an assignment from an oversees conspirator to kill a resident of Sweden in a way that would frighten "the whole Kufar [nonbeliever] world." She traveled to Europe and tracked the target online, but never got to follow through on the task, prosecutors said.
Khalid is first linked to her in the indictment through a July 8, 2009, email that she forwarded to the young man, who was then 15. It asked for money.
He is alleged to have responded: "I have waited for this 'donation' moment for so long and I want to make sure that everything is true so that the money reaches … the hands of brothers who are true to their intentions and are REAL mujahids [fighters engaged in violent jihad] not some fbi hungry agents."
That same day, prosecutors claim, he posted a request for funds on an online forum on LaRose's behalf, writing that "The sister has been in touch with a brother… [who] has appealed for urgent funds stating that his resources are limited … The sister has provided me with proofs that have confirmed that the brother is … true."
Less than two weeks later, LaRose falsely told FBI agents that she had never solicited terrorism funds, then contacted Khalid, directing him to remove all forum posts, according to the indictment. He allegedly sent multiple messages to forum hosts asking that they protect LaRose, who is "being threatened by the fbi" and remove the posts "so they can't use it as evidence against her."
He's also accused of holding a passport until July of this year that he intended to transfer to the "mujaahideen" later.
In a statement, Assistant Attorney General for National Security Lisa Monaco said the indictment "underscores the evolving nature of violent extremism" which is playing out around the world with the aid of the Internet.
But Khalid's lawyer says investigators have misunderstood the communications.
"The government analysis of how this stuff got online is incorrect. This kid wouldn't know a terrorist if he ran over him in a car," Lindy said. "It's 100 percent based on what's going on the Internet, and I think they've totally misapprehended who was posting."
He declined to say what his client's role or purpose was, reserving the explanation for court.
Khalid is the second young Maryland man to be indicted on terrorism charges within the year. In December, Antonio Martinez, who's now 22, was charged with the attempted murder of federal employees using a weapon of mass destruction when he tried to detonate a car bomb at a military recruiting center in Catonsville. The device, which was inert, had been provided by an undercover FBI agent.Copyright © 2015, CT Now