AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Leon Nathan Davis had a family and a sales job — and says he left them behind last fall with a one-way ticket overseas and a plan to join the Islamic State group.
The 37-year-old Augusta, Georgia, man pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court to a charge of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization. Davis faces up to 15 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 when a judge sentences him at a later date.
During his 30-minute plea hearing, Davis told a judge he bought a one-way ticket to fly from Atlanta to Turkey last October.
"I was to be smuggled into Syria and at that point in time join ISIS," said Davis, a stocky, pale man with a shaved head.
What isn't clear is why. Davis never spoke about his motivations in court, and the judge never asked about them. But Davis did mention that he married within the past two years and has a stepdaughter. Before his arrest Oct. 24 while checking in for his flight at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Davis said, he worked as a salesman for a company that sells mail-order medical supplements.
Davis' defense attorney, Michael Loebl, declined to comment further after the plea hearing, as did prosecutors. A woman who answered the door Wednesday evening at a listed address for Davis' mother slammed the door shut when a reporter introduced himself.
Davis is among several dozen people charged in the past year with trying to fight alongside the Islamic State and other militants or with lending them material support. Federal charges against him were filed Wednesday just before his plea hearing.
Charging documents say Davis is also known by the names Abdul Wakil Khalil and Abu Hurairah Al Amreekee. Georgia Department of Corrections records show he was imprisoned in October 2005 after being sentenced to 10 years for cocaine trafficking. He was released in September 2008, but returned to prison for more than a year starting in February 2012.
Federal authorities began watching Davis more than a year ago after he tried to contact Islamic State members through social media, FBI agent Gutis Zunde testified. He said Davis booked a flight to Turkey online last fall and traveled to Atlanta's airport to catch his plane Oct. 24. Authorities arrested Davis at the Delta Air Lines check-in counter.
Zunde said Davis later told investigators he expected to teach English to other Islamic State members once he reached Syria.
"He said he wasn't sure if he would be a fighter or possibly a recruiter for them," Zunde said.
Prosecutors had held Davis since February on a charge of illegal firearms possession by a convicted felon. They said he owned six rifles, four handguns and two shotguns. The judge said prosecutors now plan to drop that charge.