HOUSTON (CN) – A 23-year-old Texan who told a friend he was “looking forward to dying in Allah’s cause” faces up to 15 years in federal prison after pleading guilty Monday to trying to join the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria.
Federal prosecutors dropped five other charges against Asher Abid Khan in exchange for his guilty plea to one count of providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
The FBI began investigating Khan in 2014 after getting a warrant for the Facebook page of his high school friend, Muslim convert Sixto Ramiro Garcia, and reading their discussions about their plans to travel to Turkey and meet an Islamic State, also called ISIS, recruiter who said he would help them enter neighboring Syria to join ISIS, according to Kahn’s criminal complaint.
While Garcia reportedly died fighting with ISIS in Syria, Khan made it to Turkey before his family lied to him that his mother was hospitalized and convinced him to return to Houston to be with her.
ISIS’ clout in Syria has waned amid that country’s long-running civil war, with U.S.-backed militias retaking the group’s de facto capital of Raqqa in October.
Despite the terrorist group’s losses on the battlefield, many people living in the United States have fallen victim to its recruitment efforts.
Khan is one of 144 people, most of them U.S. citizens and legal residents, who have been charged in the United States with working with ISIS, the Houston Chronicle reported, citing the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.
Khan is the fifth person in Texas to plead guilty to attempting to support the group.
A federal grand jury indicted Khan in May 2015 of plotting with Garcia. The men attended the same Houston-area mosque before Khan moved to Australia in October 2013 to live with relatives, FBI agent Keith Fogg said in an affidavit supporting Khan’s charges.
Fogg says Khan and Garcia became Facebook friends in January 2014 and Khan told Garcia he planned to go to Iraq to join ISIS and invited Garcia to join him.
According to the affidavit, that same month Khan contacted an ISIS recruiter, identified in court records as “CC-1,” a 24-year-old foreign national believed to be living in Turkey, on Facebook, and stated, “I wana [sic] join ISIS can you help?”
Khan set up Garcia’s meeting with CC-1 in Syria via Facebook messages, according to the FBI.
In spring 2014, Garcia messaged Khan that he had not yet joined ISIS, but was training with a militant group and had an AK-47 assault rifle.
Khan reportedly congratulated Garcia, but warned him not to kill innocent people.
“I’m happy for you and you are always in my prayer. I don’t want you getting in trouble so ima wrap this up real quick. Just a few things! Be carful who you kill [sic],” Khan told Garcia, according to Fogg’s affidavit.
In August 2014, Garcia told Khan he was with ISIS.
According to Khan’s plea agreement, Garcia ceased all communications in September 2014 and Garcia’s mother got an electronic message on Christmas Day that year saying that he had died, presumably while fighting with ISIS.
The FBI also monitored Khan’s Facebook chats with a female friend he has known since his freshman year of high school.
Khan’s friend, called “Individual 1” in the affidavit, tried to talk him out of joining ISIS and asked him if his parents knew about his plans.
“After Individual 1 continued to implore Khan to reconsider his plans, Khan indicated that he was going to ‘be straight forward, I wana die as a Shaheed,’ [sic] and that he was ‘looking forward to dying in Allah’s cause and meeting Allah,'” according to his charging document. Shaheed is Arabic for martyr.
Khan is a mechanical engineering student at the University of Houston. He will remain free on bond until his March 5 sentencing.