Alleged U.S. supporter of al Qaeda enters no plea in New York court

Story highlights

  • Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh was deported from Pakistan to the United States
  • The U.S. citizen is accused of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists

(CNN)A U.S. citizen with alleged ties to al Qaeda did not enter a plea during his initial court appearance Thursday on charges of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.

Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, 29, was deported from Pakistan to the United States. He's accused of plotting to fight against American forces abroad, according to a complaint unsealed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn.
"This is news for celebration," said CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd. "Pretty simple reason why: If you look at a case like this, I think most Americans would say the significance of this case is that this guy, an American, is going to come back home and conduct an attack. Instead, you should look at him as a ... facilitator.
    "He's not going to burn himself by coming back. He's going to serve as the conduit or known in Pakistan who understands the West, how you travel, how you stay out of the clutches of law enforcement and he also understands al Qaeda in Pakistan. Those people are really hard to come by. This is a great catch not because he was a potential bomber but because he could have trained tens of bombers."
    Farekh's court appearance comes on the same day that federal prosecutors announced the arrests of two New York women accused of planning to build an explosive device for an attack on U.S. soil.
    The women, identified as Noelle Velentzas, 28, and Asia Siddiqui, 31, were arrested in a plot inspired by the terrorist group ISIS and others to build a weapon of mass destruction, according to a criminal complaint. They are both U.S. citizens and were roommates in the borough of Queens.
    Farekh allegedly departed from Canada and headed to Pakistan with two other men in 2007 with the intention of fighting American forces abroad, prosecutors said.

    More than 30 cases

    In the past 18 months, the Justice Department's National Security Division has prosecuted or is prosecuting more than 30 cases of people attempting to travel abroad to join or provide support to terrorist groups. Of those cases, 18 allegedly involve support to ISIS.
    "Given how the terrorist threat to the world is evolving, how the potential terrorist threat to our nation is evolving, homeland security is becoming a matter of 'hometown security,' " Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told reporters Thursday. "The terrorist threat is more decentralized, more diffuse, more complicated. It involves the potential lone wolf actor, it involves the effective use of social media, the Internet."
    A Texas native, Farekh and his co-conspirators allegedly conspired to provide material support and resources to al Qaeda from 2006 to 2009, according to the complaint.
    Their intention, according to court documents: To kill and attempt to kill U.S. government employees and military personnel abroad.

    'Intention of becoming a martyr'

    "Al Farekh allegedly provided material support to terrorists with every intention of becoming a martyr," FBI Assistant Director in Charge Diego Rodriguez said in a statement. "Today, members of our military are safer."
    When Farekh, another man named Ferid Imam and a third co-conspirator left Canada for Pakistan in 2007, they did not inform their families of their plans, court documents said. The three men were enrolled as students at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada.
    Prosecutors said they called a friend in Canada after arriving in Pakistan to say that they would not be heard from again because they were becoming martyrs.
    In September 2008, Imam allegedly provided weapons and other military training at an al Qaeda camp in Pakistan to three men -- Najibullah Zazi, Zarein Ahmedzay and Adis Medunjanin. The trio had planned to return to the United States to carry out a suicide attack on the New York subway, according to prosecutors.
    Zazi and Ahmedzay have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with prosecutors. They have not been sentenced. Medunjanin was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Imam has been indicted for his role in the plot.
    If convicted, Farekh faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. His next court date is May 2.