NEW YORK (AP) — Two men arrested on charges of plotting to help the Islamic State group were vocal both online and in person about their commitment and desire to join the extremists, with one speaking of shooting President Barack Obama to "strike fear in the hearts of infidels," federal authorities said.
The men were among three charged Wednesday with attempt and conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization.
Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19, was arrested at Kennedy Airport, where he was attempting to board a flight to Istanbul, with plans to head to Syria, authorities said. Another man, 24-year-old Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, had a ticket to travel to Istanbul next month and was arrested in Brooklyn, federal prosecutors said. The two were held without bail after a brief court appearance.
A third defendant, Abror Habibov, 30, is accused of helping fund Saidakhmetov's efforts. He was ordered held without bail in Florida.
If convicted, each faces a maximum of 15 years in prison.
On Thursday, Michael Steinbach, the FBI's assistant director for counterterrorism, told a House committee the case was an example of "what the threat looks like."
In some cases, individuals pursue an "intellectual curiosity" online that leads them to become radicalized or are already radicalized once they turn to the Internet.
Officials are also encountering those who, like the three charged Wednesday in New York, feel thwarted in their efforts to travel overseas and discuss attacks against the U.S. instead.
"We're seeing that play more and more often," Steinbach said.
Authorities said Juraboev first came to the attention of law enforcement in August, when he posted on an Uzbek-language website that propagates the Islamic State ideology.
"Greetings! We too want to pledge our allegiance and commit ourselves while not present there," he wrote, according to federal authorities. "Is it possible to commit ourselves as dedicated martyrs anyway while here?"
"What I'm saying is, to shoot Obama and then get shot ourselves, will it do? That will strike fear in the hearts of infidels."
Juraboev was visited by federal law enforcement officials and told officials he wanted to express support for the Islamic State group. He mentioned Saidakhmetov as a friend and sympathizer, officials said.
Juraboev worked slicing lettuce at a Brooklyn gyro restaurant and earned about $500 a week, said Gyro King owner, Zakarya Khan. Juraboev had told his boss Thursday would be his last day of work because he planned to visit family in his native Uzbekistan, Khan said.
"I used to respect him and I used to take care of him," Khan said Thursday. "If I would have noticed even one statement from him saying something about America or something about a jihad or fighting, I would have definitely had a very good conversation with him, but he never mentioned anything at all."
Khan said he was shocked to hear about Juraboev's arrest but was "even more shocked" to hear that Saidakhmetov had been tied to the plot.
"He sometimes used to come here," Khan said. "He was a young kid, very innocent, with a very innocent face."
According to the federal complaint, Saidakhmetov said he intended to shoot police officers and FBI agents if his plan to join the IS group in Syria was thwarted.
But Saidakhmetov's mother took away his passport to prevent him from traveling, according to the complaint. When he called and asked for it back, she asked where he wanted to go and he said that a person who had the chance to join the Islamic State group and didn't would face divine judgment. She hung up on him.
Saidakhmetov's attorney, Adam Perlmutter, said his client would plead not guilty.
"This is the type of case that highlights everything that is wrong with how the Justice Department approaches these cases," Perlmutter said. Juraboev's attorney had no immediate comment.
Habibov worked with Saidakhmetov and helped him get travel documents and a plane ticket, federal officials said.
Habibov, who had lived in Brooklyn, moved a few years ago and fell out of contact with the borough's Uzbek community, said Farhod Sulton, president of the Brooklyn-based Vatandosh Uzbek-American Federation.
He had stopped coming to Uzbek gatherings, Sulton said, and was reading extremist literature. "We had a tense conversation about the ultra-orthodox understanding of Islam. I think he got into the wrong hands in terms of learning Islam."
Saidakhmetov is a Brooklyn resident and citizen of Kazakhstan. Habibov had been in the U.S. legally, but his visa had expired. He was appointed a public defender Wednesday.
The Kazakhstan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was aware of Saidakhmetov's arrest. It said he was born in southern Kazakhstan, left for Uzbekistan in October 2011 and hadn't returned.
Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Deepti Hajela in New York and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.