Feb. 2 (UPI) — Federal prosecutors announced Monday that they had arrested a U.S. citizen, 33, who attempted to travel to Syria in his 20s and volunteer for the Islamic State, or IS, a designated foreign terrorist organization.
Mohamed Fathy Suliman, of Gainesville, Fla., was expelled from an unidentified foreign country and brought back by the FBI to the United States for prosecution, Lawrence Keefe, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, said Monday.
Suliman, who was being held in the Alachua County Jail, appeared Monday at the U.S. Courthouse in Gainesville.
Keefe thanked prosecutors and FBI field agents at the Jacksonville Field Office in a statement.
“Terrorists and would-be terrorists need to understand that no resource will be spared when it comes to protecting U.S. citizens and prosecuting those who seek to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations,” Keefe said.
According to the federal complaint, Suliman, a Gainesville resident who was born in Washington, D.C., appeared to become interested in IS possibly starting in May 2009 when he began to receive emails with audio files of messages “calling for jihad, justifications for jihad, rewards for those who participate in jihad and martyrdom, and that encouraged fighting against the crusaders, infidels (non-Muslims), and those that insult the Prophet Muhammad,” prosecutors said.
In 2014, Suliman replaced his Facebook profile picture with a black IS flag and embarked on an ultimately failed journey to join IS by trying to slip through the Turkish border to Syria.
With $1,000 in cash, so credit card movements couldn’t be tracked, Suliman allegedly bought a one-way plane ticket to Egypt, but exited the plane in Istanbul and bought a one-way ticket to the Turkish/Syrian border town of Gaziantep, Turkey. On June 14, 2014, Suliman was arrested by Turkish police for illegally crossing into Syria from Turkey and was detained for 10 days, and his passport was seized. He was fined $2,000 and deported to Sudan.
In 2018, when he and a relative tried to acquire a new passport at the U.S. consulate in Sudan, he said in a recorded interview that he wanted to travel to Syria to meet with members of IS, Al-Nusrah Front, Jaish al-Islam and ‘Jabhah Shamiyah’ and he “claimed that he wanted to find the truth from each of these groups so he could determine who to support.” He told embassy officials he didn’t agree with “beheadings and torture” but he was willing to help with English speaking and translation and that he would try to get his father to send money to the extremist groups.
The FBI complaint also said Suliman had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2006 and had stopped taking his medication and experienced manic and depressive episodes, where his beliefs changed from being a moderate Salafist Muslim to believing in more extremist ideologies, like those of the Salafist jihadists.
Suliman was also arrested in 2009 in Somalia and accused of attempting to join extremist fighters there.
The Gainesville Sun reported Suliman was a student at the University of Florida between 2005 and 2006 and had studied food science and human nutrition.
Federal law prohibits providing material support and resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations, such as IS. If convicted, Suliman could face 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Suliman will appear in court again in February in federal court in Gainesville.