Muslim convert held in Washington state on way to fight in Syria
A Californian who prosecutors say was on his way to Syria to join an al-Qaeda splinter group has been arrested near the US-Canada border in Washington state on a terrorism charge, federal officials said.
The US Department of Justice said that 20-year-old Nicholas Teausant, an American-born convert to Islam, had planned to cross into Canada on Monday and travel on to Syria to join Islamist militants.
A criminal complaint outlining the accusations against Teausant said he wanted to join an al-Qaeda splinter group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which it said was also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
"My designs have me staying there [in Syria] and being on every news station in the world," the criminal complaint quoted Teausant as telling a paid FBI informant last month.
"I'm going to be a commander and I'm going to be on the front of every single newspaper in the country," he said. "Like I want my face on FBI's top 12 most wanted. Because that means I'm doing something right."
The complaint said Teausant planned to join the group to engage in jihad - Islamic holy struggle - and to fight the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, which is battling the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's civil war.
ISIL, a small but powerful force that emerged from the Sunni Islamist insurgency in neighbouring Iraq and has attracted many foreign militants to its ranks, opposes the Assad government but has also fought rival rebel factions.
Teausant also spoke of wanting to target the subway system in Los Angeles on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, according to the US complaint, but discontinued his involvement over fears authorities had caught wind of it.
Teausant was arrested near the border in Blaine, Washington, on a charge of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organisation. He faces a maximum of 15 years in prison and a US$250,000 fine if convicted.
He joins a small number of American converts to Islam who have been accused of taking up arms, or attempting to do so, in the name of religion. Among the most famous was John Walker Lindh, who was captured in Afghanistan and has been in a US prison since 2002 for aiding the Taliban.
Teausant showed little emotion in a brief court appearance in Seattle on Monday as his lawyer asked that his case be transferred to California, a request granted by the judge. Teausant was ordered to remain in custody pending his transfer.
A student at a community college in California, Teausant was also a member of the US national guard. As of December, he was in the process of being released because he "did not meet the minimum requirements".