SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — An Iraqi-born man living in California was indicted Thursday on a federal charge that he lied to investigators about traveling to Syria to fight against the government there.
Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab was indicted in Sacramento on one count of making a false statement involving international terrorism.
He was arrested a week ago and remains jailed awaiting a Jan. 22 court appearance. The indictment replaces an earlier criminal complaint with the same allegation, and both carry sentences of up to eight years in prison.
Authorities say the 23-year-old went to Syria to fight in late 2013 and early 2014, but falsely told investigators he was visiting his grandmother in Turkey.
Authorities say Al-Jayab fought in Syria as a teenager before coming to the United States and went to Syria again two years ago, joining a group later affiliated with the Islamic State.
Prosecutors and his defense attorney say he planned no violent actions in the United States.
That differs from a purported acquaintance held without bond in Texas after a federal agent testified the Iraqi refugee sought to set off bombs at two Houston malls.
Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, 24, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to three charges including that he tried to help the Islamic State group. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison.
Prosecutors say he and Al-Jayab used social media to coordinate plans to get weapons training and eventually sneak into Syria.
However, Al-Jayab's defense attorney, Ben Galloway, said Thursday that the communications between the two men appear to be from 2013.
"They did not concern any domestic plot by either man, any plot to attack the US," Galloway said. "That was years ago, and allegedly about going overseas, not about anything here."
The twin arrests fed criticism of the Obama administration's refugee policies, though immigrant advocates say refugees are carefully vetted.