Crime & Courts

ISIS suspect dreamed of killing Americans but worried what his mom might think

ISIS in Syria
ISIS in Syria Associated Press

An 18-year-old South Carolina man arrested last week on an ISIS-related charge dreamed of replicating the Orlando, Fla., massacre but decided he could better serve by joining the terrorist group in the Middle East where he could kill Americans, the FBI says.

Zakaryia Abdin was also worried what his mother might think.

Abdin, who formerly lived near Charlotte, was arrested Thursday at the Charleston airport, where he was scheduled to depart for Jordan.

Two years ago, when he was 16 and a student at York Comprehensive High School, Abdin and another unnamed suspect were charged with plotting to rob a gun store in North Carolina, then attack troops at military bases near Raleigh.

In his current case, prosecutors say Abdin had been conspiring online for weeks with an undercover FBI agent posing as a operative for the Islamic State, commonly known as ISIS or ISIL, about his plans to travel to the Middle East to fight. Otherwise, he would commit a terrorist act at home in support of ISIS, the FBI says.

Either way, his preferred targets were fellow Americans, a newly unsealed FBI affidavit says.

“I want you to place me on the frontlines just to fight Al Amrikan (the Americans),” Abdin wrote on March 14. “I will fight them until death, I swear, I swear, I swear.”

The next day, Abdin asked the agent if ISIS had any Americans the group planned to torture and kill on video, as it had with other captives. He volunteered to be the executioner, the affidavit says.

“I want to be the one to send the message because they will know who I am and I want them to see ... Save him for me, ahki (friend) ... It will be a strong message.”

According to the affidavit, Abdin, a resident of Ladson, S.C., at the time of his arrest, believed he was being watched and occasionally followed. If thwarted from traveling to the Middle East, he volunteered to kill at home.

At one point, he asked the agent if Omar Mateen, who shot down 49 people at an Orlando night club last June, had contacted ISIS leaders before his attack.

On March 17, he wrote the agent: “I swear to God ... I was very close to doing what (Brother) Omar did (one month later) But I did not have weapons.”

He said he saved his money and bought guns, including a semi-automatic rifle. But before acting, he said he prayed and felt he was destined to be in the Middle East. He told the agent he sold his guns to buy his ticket to Jordan.

“Wallahi (I swear) I almost got in my car and left for location but I just made the dua (prayer) and said it is better to wait and see if Allah will answer,” the affidavit says.

His arrest comes as the country and its courts continue to debate a proposed Trump administration travel ban on visitors from several Arab countries to protect national security.

Had the ban been allowed to take place, Abdin, an American citizen, would not have been affected. He is the latest of almost 220 people arrested on ISIS charges in the past three years. Almost half of those charged were planning to leave the States to join ISIS operations or had already done so, according to the George Washington University Program on Extremism.

Abdin, who is scheduled to be in federal court in Charleston on Wednesday, is the second Charlotte-area man charged with providing support to a terrorist group. Justin Sullivan of Morganton, 20, awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to the charge late last year. Sullivan also faces capital murder charges in Burke County in connection with the shooting death of an elderly neighbor.

After his 2015 arrest, Abdin was convicted in York County Juvenile Court. He was paroled a year later against the wishes of local law enforcement officials.

After moving to the Charleston area, Abdin apparently had little trouble acquiring guns and ammunition. On Jan. 13, according to the affidavit, Abdin even visited FBI offices in Charleston to inform agents that he had purchased weapons for hunting, and that he “wanted nothing to do with his past actions and claimed that he had completely disassociated himself with extremist ideology,” the affidavit says.

Two months later, the FBI says, his tone had changed. After the undercover agent advised Abdin that he could change his travel plans if he was worried about his life, Abdin wrote back:

“Ahki you made me laugh ... Ahki I am coming to fight,” the affidavit say. “Not to play video games and sit.”

But Abdin appeared torn about leaving his mother. He wrote the undercover agent and asked if he could send a picture of himself to her after he arrived in Egypt to fight.

“I told her I am just going on a simple vacation ... When I arrive it will break her heart if I do not return and she does not know where I am,” the affidavit says. “She has every right to know that I have chosen this path and she will at least know where I am and I will not return.”

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS