Federal agents have arrested two Iraqi-born Palestinian immigrants from California and Texas on charges of having ties with the Islamic State terror group in Syria.
Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab, 23, was arrested from Sacramento, California, and Omar Faraj Saeed Al-Hardan, 24, from Houston, Texas. Both are Iraqi-born Palestinians.
Al-Jayab fought against Syrian government soldiers and promised in 2013 he would train Al-Hardan in using weapons and sneaking into Syria to join the fight, The Associated Press reported, citing an FBI affidavit unsealed in federal court in Sacramento on Friday.
The two used social media to discuss their plans. "O God, grant us martyrdom for your sake while engaged in fighting and not retreating; a martyrdom that would make you satisfied with us," Al-Jayab wrote to Al Hardan, according to court documents.
Al-Jayab was marched into an eighth-floor courtroom at the federal courthouse in downtown Sacramento with his arms and legs shackled, according to The Sacramento Bee, which quoted federal authorities as saying that he came to the United States in 2012, went back to the Middle East in 2014 to join up and fight with terror groups in Syria, then returned to the U.S. and settled in Sacramento.
"Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab allegedly traveled overseas to fight alongside terrorist organizations and lied to U.S. authorities about his activities," U.S. Assistant Attorney General John Carlin said in a statement. "The National Security Division's highest priority is protecting the nation from terrorism, and we will continue to hold accountable those who seek to join or aid the cause of terrorism, whether at home or abroad."
He allegedly lied to federal agents about his overseas visit and activities. He told immigration authorities he was going to Turkey to visit his grandmother, but went instead into Syria to join the fighting there.
U.S. Attorney Ben Wagner in Sacramento also issued a statement. "According to the allegations in the complaint, the defendant traveled to Syria to take up arms with terrorist organizations and concealed that conduct from immigration authorities," he said. "While he represented a potential safety threat, there is no indication that he planned any acts of terrorism in this country."
However, Al-Jayab's attorney Ben Galloway was quoted as saying outside the courtroom, "There is no threat that this man poses or no indication that he's engaged in any activity since his return two years ago. The only activities that were interrupted were his studies and his work."
Al-Hardan, on the other hand, was arrested on suspicion that he was allegedly plotting a terror attack in Houston.
Al-Hardan, charged with attempting to provide material support for terrorists, appeared in a Houston federal court Friday.
A court document says he entered the United States in November 2009 and lived in Houston.
"I applaud the FBI for today's arrest of this dangerous subject. However, this is precisely why I called for a halt to refugees entering the U.S. from countries substantially controlled by terrorists," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. "I once again urge the president to halt the resettlement of these refugees in the United States until there is an effective vetting process that will ensure refugees do not compromise the safety of Americans and Texans."
Al-Jayab faces up to eight years in prison, and Al-Hardan faces up to 25 years in prison.