US: Islamic State suspect’s siblings joined him
CHICAGO (AP) — A younger brother and sister left their suburban Chicago home and were detained at O’Hare International Airport along with their 19-year-old brother last month — all of them intent on traveling to Syria to join Islamic State militants, a prosecutor alleged on Monday while pushing for the older brother to remain behind bars.
The jailed Mohammed Hamzah Khan was the only one charged, but prosecutor Richard Hiller said Khan’s 16-year-old brother and 17-year-old sister were also passionate about the Islamic State. Hiller said the girl once used the Twitter handle @DeathIsTheeNear to send a favorable tweet about a video of beheadings — even placing a smiley emoticon in the text.
Authorities announced Khan’s Oct. 4 arrest at O’Hare several days after it happened. On Monday, they revealed for the first time that his siblings were detained with him that same day, all three with airplane tickets to Istanbul, Turkey, which borders Syria.
At the end of the 2½-hour detention hearing in federal court in Chicago, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Cox ruled the government amply showed that Khan poses a potential threat and a flight risk and therefore shouldn’t be released.
“He was prepared to abandon his home, his family, his country and his citizenship to join (the Islamic State),” Cox said.
Defense attorney Thomas Durkin had called on Cox to grant Khan supervised release so he could get counseling.
“There is time to modify this behavior ... which is, I think, needed here,” he said. “We can’t give up on these kids.”
Khan is charged with seeking to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group, which carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence. Prosecutors gave no indication they are even contemplating charges against his siblings, who they never referred to by name.
Hiller described Khan as the instigator of the plan to join the Islamic State. He said Khan’s meticulous planning included landing a job at a Chicago-area store to earn money for the three plane tickets.
“He tried to take his high school-aged siblings halfway around the world to a war zone,” Hiller said.
The prosecutor said all three spoke of acts of violence, with the sister writing about “preparing for death.”
“He and his siblings not only had barbaric rhetoric ... they tried to carry it out,” he said.
Prosecutors have previously said Khan left his parents a handwritten letter in his bedroom that expressed anger over his U.S. taxes being used to kill his “Muslim brothers and sisters.”
His siblings left similar letters, Hiller told the court Monday. He said the girl sounded determined but also saddened she was leaving the family’s home in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, writing, “My heart is crying for the thought I left you.”
At Monday’s hearing, Durkin called the case against his client “hopelessly weak.” He said Khan and his siblings appeared to have fallen under the influence of “slick” Islamic State propaganda.
Durkin has previously said the parents did not know of their son’s plans to travel to Syria.
Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm.