HOUSTON (CN) — A Palestinian U.S. resident who told an informant he wanted to build bombs for the Islamic State faces up to 20 years in federal prison after pleading guilty Monday to attempting to support the terrorist group.
Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, 24, a Palestinian born in Iraq, entered the United States as a refugee in 2009 and became a permanent resident in 2011.
Department of Homeland Security agent Herman Wittliff testified at Al Hardan's January arraignment that federal agents began tracking Al Hardan in April 2014 while investigating Aws Mohammed Younis al-Jayab, a Sacramento man who had traveled to Turkey then to Syria and fought alongside terrorists aligned with the Islamic State.
The men said they both planned to travel to the Middle East to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL, and Al Hardan said he would go once he got a U.S. passport, Wittliff testified.
Al-Jayab, 23, is in federal custody in Chicago, indicted on charges of attempting to support a terrorist group. He also was indicted in California, accused of lying to U.S. immigration agents that he had traveled to Turkey to visit his grandma.
Federal agents arrested Al Hardan in January at a DHS office in Houston.
Al Hardan met with an informant 17 times, starting in June 2014, according to testimony at his January arraignment.
Al Hardan told the informant he wanted to go onto a military base in Grand Prairie, Texas, and use gasoline to blow up Humvees, Witliff testified at the January hearing.
Al Hardan also told the informant he wanted to plant bombs at two malls in Houston, and that he was watching online videos to learn how to build improvised explosive devices, which the FBI corroborated with a search of his computer, Wittliff told the court.
Federal agents found electronic circuit components and tools needed to assemble them — a soldering iron and antistatic tweezers, plus an ISIL flag and camouflage at Al Hardan's Houston apartment, where he lived with his wife and young child. He drove a limo for a living.
A three-count indictment charged Al Hardan in January with attempting to join ISIL, lying on his U.S. citizenship application about his ties to terrorist groups, and not disclosing during an interview with an immigration official that he'd been trained how to shoot an AK-47 by the informant.
Al Hardan pleaded guilty Monday to attempting to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
His plea agreement includes excerpts of conversations he had with his family that were intercepted by the FBI.
"Al Hardan stated to family members: 'Once I get the passport I will leave America. Just wait until I get the passport. You will get a phone call with news of my death. Just wait and see. ... I want to blow myself up. I want to travel to Syria with the Mujahidin. I want to travel to be with those who are against America. I am against America," the plea agreement states.
He faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine at his Jan. 17 sentencing hearing.Follow @cam_langford
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.