HOUSTON (CN) — A Houston man who posted a recipe for a hard-to-detect explosive that's been used in several deadly terrorist attacks is the latest Islamic State acolyte to be foiled by undercover FBI agents, prosecutors said Monday.
Federal agents arrested Kaan Sercan Damlarkaya, 18, on Friday. A criminal complaint charging him with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State group, or ISIS, and unlawfully distributing explosive-making instructions was unsealed Monday upon his initial appearance before a federal magistrate judge in Houston.
If convicted of either charge, Damlarkaya faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
His arraignment came just hours after Akayed Ullah, a 27-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant and former cab driver, reportedly set off a pipe bomb strapped to his chest during morning rush hour in a New York City subway near Times Square.
Ullah, who authorities say was inspired by ISIS, was the only person seriously injured by the blast, suffering burns to his hands and torso, according to The Associated Press.
Though the United States has not suffered the frequent terrorist attacks that have plagued Europe in recent years, more than 140 people have been charged in the United States with working with ISIS, many of whom were detected, and encouraged to pursue their plots, by undercover FBI agents.
Experts say the Nov. 13, 2015, terrorist attacks in Paris and coordinated bombings at a train station and an airport in Belgium on March 22, 2016, which killed a total of 162 bystanders, were carried out in part by suicide bombers using the explosive triacetone triperoxide.
The substance is harder to detect by drug-sniffing dogs and bomb-detection scanners than TNT and C4 because unlike those explosives it does not contain nitrogen, and it’s said to be easy to make out of regular household items.
According to the criminal complaint, Damlarkaya posted his own how-to-make-explosives guide online in August, and the FBI determined it is a “viable recipe” for triacetone triperoxide.
“Damlarkaya then augmented his recipe with a reminder that people should add shrapnel to the ‘pressure cooker’ bomb. After that, Damlarkaya explained that he needed to learn how to make a detonator,” FBI agent Keith Fogg said in the charging document.
Starting in early August, the FBI said, Damlarkaya had several online conversations with FBI sources and undercover agents in which he sought their help to travel to Syria or Afghanistan to join ISIS, and told them about two failed attempts he made in 2014 and 2015 to travel to Syria.
Damlarkaya told an FBI source that his 2015 trip fell through after a friend he’d asked to travel to Syria with him told his own mother about Damlarkaya's plans and she shared that information with the FBI.
“Damlarkaya then complained that his parents were watching him all the time as a result of these failed attempts,” the FBI said.
The affidavit portrays Damlarkaya as determined to join ISIS and regretful that that goal was impeding him from pursuing a romance.
The FBI said Damlarkaya told an undercover FBI agent that he was in love with the sister of the friend he wanted to accompany him to Syria.
“But ... the girl's parents prohibited any contact because 'of course they won't let their daughter marry a terrorist,’” Damlarkaya reportedly told the agent, as documented in the complaint.
The FBI said Damlarkaya also sent a digital manual to an FBI source on how to make an AK-47 or AR-15 assault rifle from “readily available parts in order to avoid detection by the authorities,” and promoted machetes to another FBI informant as a cheap weapon, which he said could cut a person's arm off or cut through body armor, for those who could not get a gun or make explosives.
“Damlarkaya explained that he carries a knife in the event he is stopped by law enforcement, and sleeps with a machete under his pillow in case his house is raided,” according to the criminal complaint.
People charged with trying to support ISIS rarely go to trial because prosecutors usually have ample incriminating evidence against them.
This is the third straight year in which a Houston resident has been charged with the crime. The cases are not related.
The men charged in 2015 and 2016, 23-year-old University of Houston student Asher Abid Khan, and Palestinian U.S. resident Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, who is in his mid 20s, both pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
Khan is looking at a maximum of 15 years in federal prison at his March 5, 2018 sentencing. Al Hardan faces up to 20 years in federal prison. His sentencing has been pushed back several times this year and is set for Dec. 18.
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