BROWNSBURG, Ind. – An Indiana teen who allegedly tried to flee the country and join ISIS plead guilty to trying to provide material support to a terrorist organization in court Wednesday.
Akram Musleh, now 20 years old, was charged with one count of attempting to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist back in September 2016. During the hearing, he said little beyond procedural responses but plead guilty to the charge.
"He's not the same person today that was brainwashed by ISIS several years ago," Thomas Durkin, Musleh's attorney, said. "He's remorseful. He has reconsidered everything he thought about. He is not a terrorist."
According to court documents, investigators believe Musleh pledged his allegiance to ISIS online, communicated with who he thought were ISIS supporters and tried to arrange travel to ISIS controlled territory.
Officials stopped then 18-year old Musleh on June 21, 2016 as he attempted to board a bus from Indianapolis to New York, where they say he planned to fly to Morocco on his way to territory controlled by ISIS. Court documents say he then planned to join the group. He’s been in federal custody since the FBI stopped him in June 2016.
"There's also an awful lot of facts that will come out at the sentencing hearing about the fact he wanted to get married, that he was going to Morocco. He was confused, he still wasn't sure what he was gonna do. It's a compelling story," Durkin said.
Before Musleh found himself in handcuffs, according to court documents, law enforcement says they discovered the Brownsburg teen posted Youtube videos of Anwar Al-Awlaki, purchased an ISIS flag online and took a photo in front of it and tried asking other juveniles in Williams Park if they wanted to join the terrorist organization. Investigators said he also searched online for information about explosive materials and pressure cookers.
"There's a typical pattern to the type of young kid who is able to be influenced that way. He fits that pattern," Durkin said. "He had a difficult family life, he's a product of divorce, he had a difficult upbringing. It's a common pattern that you see in cases such as these when somebody is looking for something better than what they have."
Those who knew Musleh declined to comment at this latest hearing, but did wave to the defendant in the courtroom.
"This is not someone anyone has to be fearful of," Durkin said.
Musleh faces up to 20 years in prison, a lifetime of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
- Investigators say YouTube videos of Anwar Al-Awlaki posted by Musleh were first discovered in August 2013.
- The FBI discovered that Musleh was a student at Brownsburg High School, and they met with school officials and Musleh at the school on December 11, 2013. He told them that a close family member introduced him to such videos, which he would watch at home, according to court documents. He said he used the videos to "further his understanding of the history of Islam." Court documents show the school and the FBI took steps to dissuade Musleh from engaging in radical extremism.
- On April 12, 2015, Brownsburg police investigated an incident in Williams Park after a report of juveniles being asked if they wanted to join Daesh, another term for ISIS. The FBI determined Musleh was one of the people asking these questions.
- Court documents show that in April 2015, Musleh purchased a one-way ticket from Chicago to Erbil, Iraq. He did not end up taking the flight.
- Several months later, Musleh reportedly purchased an ISIS flag online. On or around June 17, 2015, he photographed himself in front of it.
- In June 2015, he booked at least three separate one-way tickets from Chicago to Istanbul, Turkey. He arrived at the airport on June 23, 2015, and obtained his boarding pass. He was interviewed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He told them he was traveling to Istanbul to see family and friends. Authorities informed Musleh he could not travel to Turkey on his passport because it was set to expire on August 25, 2015. Turkey requires a minimum of six months of validity on passports. His baggage was searched and the FBI found a journal with quotes from Abu Musab Zarqawi, Abdullah Azzam, Anwar AL-Awlaki and Osama Bin Laden, all individuals who are or have been associated with terrorist organizations.
- On May 2, 2016, Musleh viewed an article from 2006 discussing a Indiana Department of Homeland Security list of approximately 8,500 potential terror targets in Indiana.
- On May 5, 2016, Musleh accessed sites looking at pressure cookers. He also did extensive research on May 6-7 on explosive materials, including: dynamite, flash powder, explosive precursors, instructions on constructing explosive devices and explosive chemical recipes.
- On May 16, 2016, an FBI confidential human source (CHS) reached out to Musleh on social media and began speaking with him on an online messaging platform. Court documents show Musleh expressed his desire again to travel in order to join ISIS in either Syria or Lybia. During one of these conversations, investigators say he pledged his allegiance to ISIS.
- On May 25, 2016, FBI agents searched Musleh's cell phone in Brownsburg. According to court documents, agents recovered many files about jihad, martyrdom and ISIS. Several ISIS-produced magazines were also reportedly found on the phone, along with photos of him allegedly using ISIS hand gestures.
- On June 1, 2016, court documents show Musleh began speaking to a person on a messaging system once again about traveling to join ISIS. The user tells him the platform they are on isn't safe to use.
- On June 3, 2016, Musleh received an email notification indicating he had booked a one-way ticket from Casablanca, Morocco to New York, New York. The departure was set for July 21.
- On June 21, FBI agents say Musleh entered the Greyhound bus station in Indianapolis. He was arrested after purchasing a bus ticket. FBI agents and Brownsburg police officers raided his residence in the Brownsburg Pointe Apartment complex.
- On September 14, 2016, a federal grand jury charged Musleh with one count of attempting to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist.