The suspects appeared in federal court in Downtown Brooklyn charged with conspiracy to provide material support to ISIS.
"This is real," said New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton. "This is the concern about the lone wolf, inspired to act without ever going to the Mideast."
The men have been identified as Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, 24, a resident of Brooklyn and a citizen of Uzbekistan; Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19, a resident of Brooklyn and a citizen of Kazakhstan; and Abror Habibov, 30, a resident of Brooklyn and a citizen of Uzbekistan.
Officials say Juraboev and Saidakhmetov first came to the attention of law enforcement during the summer of 2014 after they expressed their online support for the establishment by force of an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
Saidakhmetov intended to commit acts of terrorism on American soil if they were unable to travel abroad to join ISIS, according to authorities. In an August 2014 posting on an Uzbek-language website that propagates ISIS's ideology, Juraboev allegedly offered to kill the President of the United States if ordered to do so by ISIS:
"I am in USA now ... But 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."
A week later, FBI met with Juraboev twice. He allegedly told them that he believes in ISIS' terrorist agenda, and that he would like to go to Syria to fight with ISIS "if Allah wills." He also told them he would harm POTUS if he could, based on president's role in killing Muslims, his support for Israel, and recent bombings of ISIS. Juraboev allegedly said he didn't have an imminent plan to harm Obama, but that if anyone within ISIS told him to, he would.
Juraboev plans for a terror attack included attacks against President Obama or planting a bomb on Coney Island— FBI New York (@NewYorkFBI) February 25, 2015
More recently, authorities say Saidakhmetov expressed his intent to buy a machine gun and shoot police officers and FBI agents if thwarted in his plan to join ISIS in Syria.
Federal officials say Juraboev identified Saidakhmetov as a friend and co-worker with a shared ideology. The two exchanged messages on how to get overseas, and Saidakhmetov and an informant watched videos of Islamic State group training camps in Syria, according to court papers.
Federal officials say they visited Juraboev and Saidakhmetov, and both pledged support to the terror group. Officials monitored them as the investigation progressed.
"The flow of foreign fighters to Syria represents an evolving threat to our country and to our allies," said state U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, who is Obama's choice to be U.S. attorney general.
Habibov operates kiosks that repair phones and sell kitchenware in malls in Jacksonville; Savannah, Georgia; and Philadelphia. He employed Saidakhmetov last fall and winter and said he would help fund his travel, prosecutors said. The two were spotted in Brooklyn purchasing a ticket for Saidakhmetov to travel to Turkey, officials said.
One of the suspects was arrested at JFK Airport trying to board a flight to Turkey, while another was arrested in Florida just after midnight. If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
The Islamic State group largely consists of Sunni militants from Iraq and Syria but has also drawn fighters from across the Muslim world and Europe.
Federal officials have expressed alarm at the idea that Americans could travel to Syria to fight alongside the Islamic State group or train there and return to the United States to carry out attacks against the homeland.
Commissioner Bratton said this was the first public case in New York, but he hinted at other ongoing investigations here.
Some information from ABC News and The Associated Press