A Virginia man who was allegedly attempting to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group and a man accused of helping him have been arrested, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Joseph Hassan Farrokh, 28, of Woodbridge, Virginia, was arrested Friday afternoon at the Richmond International Airport as he attempted to board a flight to Chicago. Officials said once he reached Chicago, he intended to board a flight to Amman, Jordan, with an ultimate destination of Syria.
Mahmoud Amin Mohamed Elhassan, 25, also of Woodbridge, was arrested Friday evening after returning from driving Farrokh to Richmond.
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Farrokh, who is a U.S. citizen originally from Pennsylvania, has been charged with attempting to provide material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
Elhassan, who is a legal permanent U.S. resident originally from Sudan, has been charged with aiding and abetting Farrokh’s attempt to provide material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
According to the criminal complaints, Farrokh been trying to leave the United States and join ISIL in Syria since Nov. 20, 2015. Farrokh purchased an airline ticket on Dec. 21, 2015, for flights departing on Jan. 15 from Richmond with an ultimate arrival destination of Jordan, and would then travel to Syria.
The complaints state Elhassan introduced Farrokh to a person who Elhassan believed had connections to individuals engaged in jihad overseas. The person was an FBI informant cooperating with law enforcement as part of a plea deal for a reduced sentence in a criminal case, according to the complaint.
Elhassan also knew of Farrokh’s plans to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a journey Farrokh believed was facilitated by the informant, and two other associates — also FBI informants. Farrokh told the informants that he lied to his family and had informed them that he intended to travel to Saudi Arabia to study.
In a taped conversation between Elhassan and one of the informants, the Sudanese-born man reported that Farrokh was close to leaving for Syria, and that his route would be through Jordan, not Turkey as previously planned.
According to the complaint, Farrokh told Elhassan that he "wanted to go right away and 'chop their heads.'" Elhassan called his attitude as that of an "extremist," to which Farrokh responded that he just "belongs on the battlefield and would rather go by himself."
Elhassan picked up Farrokh Friday morning and drove him to Richmond to a location approximately one mile from the airport, according to the criminal complaints. Farrokh then took a cab to the airport, checked in for his flight, cleared security and was arrested as he was approaching his departure gate.
After driving Farrokh to Richmond, Elhassan returned to Woodbridge and voluntarily consented to an interview by FBI agents. During the interview, Elhassan lied to agents about a number of things, including when he last saw Farrokh.
When asked when he had last seen Farrokh, Elhassan told the agents it had been earlier in the day in Woodbridge. Elhassan also stated that Farrokh was going to the Dulles International Airport to fly to California to attend a funeral and would be gone for two weeks.
U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) praised authories for discovering and ending the alleged plot.
“Our federal law enforcement and national security agencies are working day and night to keep us safe from a radical Islamic threat that is constant," she said. "These latest arrests within the Commonwealth demonstrate the threat is real, and we need our intelligence capabilities to be agile and vigilant. I commend the federal agents and our intelligence professionals who are operating in this difficult threat environment on a job well done.”
Farrokh and Elhassan each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, if convicted. The initial appearance for both men is scheduled for Jan. 19, 2016, in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa C. Buchanan at the federal courthouse in Alexandria.