A Texas man pleaded guilty in federal court Monday for plotting to join the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist organization.
Asher Abid Khan, 23, a United States citizen and Houston-area resident, admitted to conspiring to provide material support and resources to ISIS. In his quest to assist the Islamic State, Khan expressed weariness with “the west,” his desire to study sharia in Iraq, help Syrian refugees, revive the Caliphate, and die a martyr.
In 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Joint Terrorism Task Force launched an investigation into Khan once he and a Texas-based friend cooked up a plan to travel to Turkey and then onto Syria to fight for the Islamic State, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.
“We aggressively investigate and prosecute persons who provide material support to terrorist organizations like ISIS,” said Abe Martinez, acting U.S. Attorney. “Khan provided ISIS a battlefield soldier to further the terrorist organization’s violent agenda.”
The criminal complaint stated Khan, the friend, and unnamed others involved in the scheme corresponded over electronic communication outlets and social media platforms including Facebook. Khan also discussed his plans to support the Islamic State with a female from the Houston suburb of Spring who he knew since at least his freshman year of high school.
Previously in October 2013, Khan uprooted to Australia where he lived with a relative. Three months later, in January 2014, he reached out to Mohamed Zuhbi, a Turkish-based foreign terrorist fighter facilitator, saying he wanted to join ISIS because “he didn’t like living in the west anymore” and he wanted to “help his brothers and sisters to seek his maker’s mercy.” Khan planned to “study sharia” in Iraq, “help the refugees in Syria,” revive the Caliphate, and die a “shaheed,” or martyr.
According to federal prosecutors, Khan provided instructions to his friend on travel and how to reach him once Khan arrived in Turkey. It was Khan, not his friend, who kept in touch with Zuhbi, during this portion of the planning stages. In mid-February 2014, Khan provided his friend “detailed instructions” over Facebook how-to purchase a one-way airline ticket from George Bush International Airport in Houston to Turkey. On February 24, Khan and his friend reunited in Istanbul. Khan gave the friend money, knowing he intended to travel to Syria and join and fight with ISIS.
Khan, however, never made it onto Syria. He left Turkey because his family duped him into returning to Houston by alleging the hospitalization of his mother. The complaint stated that when Khan returned to Texas, he contacted Zuhbi to introduce him to the friend and aid with his entry into Syria and join ISIS as a fighter.
The court document noted that Khan gave his friend a Turkish cell phone number for reaching Zuhbi. The next day, Khan’s friend sent an electronic message to Khan indicating he had “been delivered :),” by Zuhbi, but that he was not with ISIS yet. Over the next few months, the friend attended fighter training camps and stayed in touch with Zuhbi and Khan. During that time, Khan offered his friend money and instructed him to try to get to ISIS.
On August 11, the friend reached ISIS with Khan and Zuhbi’s assistance. All forms of communications ended after September. Then, on Christmas Day, December 25, the friend’s mother received an electronic message explaining that her son died while fighting, according to the affidavit.
The Southern District of Texas has charges pending against Zuhbi, who remains at-large. They believe he is in Turkey or Syria.
Martinez called Khan’s “guilty plea” indicative “of the priority the U.S. Attorney’s office has placed on those who would give aid and comfort to terrorists operating in the United States and abroad.” District Judge Lynn Hughes scheduled Khan’s sentencing for March 5, 2018. He faces up to 15 years in federal prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
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