A Wake County man arrested in Pakistan last year for traveling in restricted areas was named Monday as the eighth suspect in what federal prosecutors say is a locally hatched plot to commit acts of terrorism abroad.
Jude Kenan Mohammad, 20, who left Wake County for Pakistan in October, is still wanted by U.S. officials. FBI agents don't know whether the Fuquay-Varina High School dropout is in Pakistan or has traveled elsewhere.
"He's a wanted fugitive," said Amy Thoreson, spokeswoman for the FBI office in Charlotte. "We're still actively searching for him."
Prosecutors' evidence in the terrorism case isn't yet known, with only a 14-page indictment giving a skeletal account of how authorities say the suspects were plotting to engage in suicide missions.
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More details may be offered this morning at a detention hearing. A federal judge will decide whether the seven arrested men should be detained or released pending their trials on charges of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. A three-year FBI investigation culminated with the July 27 arrests. U.S. Attorney George E.B. Holding said Monday that the government moved because "the overt acts were escalating."
Khalilah Sabra, head of the Raleigh chapter of the Muslim American Society, was outside the courthouse this morning before the hearing. When asked what she thought of the charges, she said, "It's an illusion. Either the defendants have created an illusion, or the agents have created an illusion, but the reality has yet to be seen."
Several of the suspects had traveled to Israel, Kosovo, Jordan and Pakistan during the past two years. Mohammad left Raleigh last October, telling his family he was going to live with his father and work in his store in or around Peshawar, Pakistan, according to a family friend who spoke with The News & Observer last year. But Mohammad was arrested by Pakistani officials and accused of trying to travel illegally in a tribal area along the Pakistan-Afghan border.
In the federal indictment unsealed Monday, Mohammad's role in the conspiracy is described as an October trip to Pakistan "to engage in violent jihad."
The area he was arrested in has been a haven for Taliban and al-Qaida extremists.
Mohammad's uncle, Evan Risueno, told The Associated Press on Monday that his nephew wasn't involved with terrorist acts.
"I think it's ridiculous," Risueno said. "He's not that kind of kid."
Also Monday, federal prosecutors indicated that the case may involve classified information. They have asked a judge to review what details can be disclosed in light of national security concerns. Raleigh's federal courthouse is well prepared. A special room was built in 2006 for the trial of David Passaro, a former CIA contractor accused of beating an Afghan detainee. The 24-by-15-foot soundproof room has its own security system, a mulching shredder and black file cabinets that serve as safes to house classified information.
Homegrown plots on trial
The arrests add Raleigh to a list of U.S. cities where FBI agents say groups of immigrants and U.S.-born Muslims transformed themselves into would-be terrorists.
Prosecutions of suspected domestic terrorists such as the ones in Lackawanna, N.Y; Cherry Hill, Pa.; and Liberty City, Fla.; and Minneapolis have largely been successful, even if the conspiracies themselves seem far from viable, said Scott Silliman, a Duke University law professor who specializes in national security issues.
A plan's sophistication doesn't necessarily matter when it comes to convictions, said Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown University professor and terrorism expert. A plan, no matter how half-baked or far from completion, can still merit a conspiracy conviction, Hoffman said.
"Even amateurs can unfortunately get lucky and be successful," Hoffman said. "It's the intent. It produces the same tragic result."
In Raleigh, the conspiracy laid out by federal prosecutors in an indictment centers on Daniel Boyd, a 39-year-old Willow Spring man who converted to Islam decades ago as a teenager. Boyd, the indictment says, traveled to the Middle East to engage in "violent jihad" and introduced the six younger men to jihadists.
The other six arrested this week -- Boyd's sons Zakariya, 20, and Dylan, 22; Hysen Sherifi, 24; Mohammad Omar Hassan, 22; Anes Subasic, 33; and Ziyad Yaghi, 21 -- have been charged with conspiring to support terrorist activities overseas and attempting to travel to Middle Eastern countries with the intentions of harming, maiming or killing.
All but one of them are U.S. citizens. Sherifi, a native of Kosovo, is living in the United States legally.
The so-called "homegrown terrorists" present challenges to federal authorities, with different laws governing how intelligence and evidence can be collected in the United States versus overseas, where judicial oversight isn't as necessary, Silliman said.
"There seems to be a greater number of homegrown terrorists," Silliman said. "People who are lawfully in this country, who are becoming radicalized in the mosques through contact with other people."
Speaking of AK-47s
A friend of one suspect thinks heated talk over America's role overseas may have been misconstrued or interpreted as a conspiracy to commit crimes.
"Maybe they got the wrong information from someone else and moved too quickly," said Hosam El Helbawi, a close friend of Omar Hassan's family who is convinced of Hassan's innocence.
Homegrown terror investigations traditionally have leaned heavily on informants, often inside mosques, to keep agents abreast of behavior deemed worrisome or dangerous, Silliman said.
No informant has been identified in the Raleigh case. But federal prosecutors have indicated in court filings that they will use evidence gathered through electronic surveillance as part of their case, along with classified intelligence information.
The indictment describes several exchanges between the defendants that could have been collected either by wiretaps or by someone present at the time.
The exchanges including a June 2008 incident in Daniel Boyd's living room where Boyd showed Sherifi how to use an AK-47 assault rifle and a March 2008 conversation in which Subasic and Boyd talk about needing to learn how to cross a border and navigate at night, according to the indictment.
Kalled Shanab, 23, who grew up with both Hassan and Yaghi and attended the same Raleigh mosque, thinks friends have been caught up in a larger net devised to nab Boyd.
"I think the feds were just trying to get Daniel," Shanab said. "I really hate to see my friends go down with him.
"I want everyone to give them the benefit of the doubt."
The Associated Press and staff writer Mandy Locke contributed to this report.