A North Carolina man was being held without bond Monday after he told undercover operatives in an FBI sting on Facebook that he was on his way to join al Qaeda fighters in Syria, according to a federal grand jury indictment.
The man, identified in court records as Basit Javed Sheikh, 29, of Cary, N.C., was arrested Nov. 2 at Raleigh-Durham International Airport as he was preparing to board a one-way flight to Lebanon, according to a grand jury indictment (.pdf) unsealed last week after a probable cause hearing in Raleigh.
Sheikh, a legal permanent U.S. resident from Pakistan, is charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Public defenders assigned to his case weren't available for comment because government offices were closed Monday for Veterans Day.
The sting that nabbed Sheikh involved a Facebook account set up by a confidential FBI source and an undercover operative posing as a "trusted brother" of Jabhat al-Nusrah, a predominantly Sunni Muslim jihadist organization fighting to overthrow the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The U.S. State Department has designated al-Nusra as a terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq. Syrian state TV reported last month that the group's leader, Mohammad al-Golani, was killed recently — a claim the organization denies.
According to the FBI affidavit, Sheikh repeated his eagerness to join al-Nusrah in numerous private Facebook messages. Eventually, he and the undercover operative worked out a plan to coordinate and finance Sheikh's travels to join the group to help out with "logistics, media, fight too, God willing," the affidavit says.
"I want to help in any way I can," Sheikh wrote, according to the affidavit, adding: "I'm serious [brother]. ... I'm not scared. ... I'm [sic] have though it out. ... I'm ready."
Sheikh made no efforts to hide his fervor, according to the affidavit, which recounted Sheikh's multiple attempts beginning in April to set up Facebook pages reposting jihadist propaganda, only to have them taken down by Facebook as inappropriate.
As transcribed in the affidavit, many of the reposted messages scolded the Free Syrian Army, the main anti-Assad opposition group, for being interested only in money and power. Others recounted in the affidavit reposted antisemitic and anti-Christian sentiments.
Little information about Sheikh himself was available Monday. According to the FBI affidavit, Sheikh's immigration records showed that he lived in the Republic of Seychelles in the Indian Ocean from 1992 to 2000.
Other government records show that Sheikh has lived in Cary with several other family members since August 2008. It wasn't clear where he was from 2000 to 2008.