Virginia man pleads guilty to trying to join Islamic State

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 18, 2016 5:22 PM

By Julia Harte

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Virginia man pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court on Friday to trying to join Islamic State in Syria earlier this year, becoming the fourth American this week to be convicted of attempting to support the group.

Joseph Hassan Farrokh, 28, a U.S. citizen from Woodbridge, Virginia, admitted that he attempted to fly to Jordan in January in order to cross into Syria and fight for Islamic State, in a plea agreement hearing at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, in Alexandria.

An acquaintance of Farrokh, Mahmoud Elhassan, 25, was also charged in January with helping Farrokh join the militant group by driving him partway to the airport and by introducing Farrokh to someone he believed to be an Islamic State recruiter -- but who was actually an FBI informant.

Elhassan has not yet entered a plea in his case, but he planned to eventually join Farrokh in Syria to fight with Islamic State, according to Farrokh's plea agreement.

Convictions for Islamic State-related activity by Americans have become more frequent in recent months as more than 80 such cases brought by U.S. prosecutors since 2013 work their way through federal courts.

Farrokh is the fourth American to be convicted of attempting to support Islamic State since last Friday, when a Mississippi man pleaded guilty to trying to join the jihadist group with his wife.

An Ohio man pleaded guilty on Wednesday to urging people to join the militant group through social media, and an Arizona man was convicted by a jury on Thursday of helping his roommates attack a "Draw Mohammed" cartoon contest in Texas last year.

Farrokh is one of five people whom federal prosecutors in Virginia's Eastern District have accused of trying to join Islamic State in the past year and a half.

One of them, Reza Niknejad, 20, successfully traveled to Syria last year to join the group, according to court records. Two other defendants in the district were sentenced last year to 4-1/2 and 11-1/3 years in prison for trying to do the same.

More recently, a 26-year-old American man who fought alongside Islamic State was identified through his Virginia driver's license as Mohammed Jamal Khweis after being captured by Kurdish forces in Iraq earlier this week.

Iraqi authorities will have to transfer him into U.S. custody before federal prosecutors can bring any charges against him, the Justice Department said.

(Reporting by Julia Harte; Editing by Alistair Bell)