CHICAGO, IL -- A southwest suburban mother is berating an organization that beheads its critics.
Zarine Khan, the mother of accused Chicago terrorism suspect Mohammed Hamzah Khan, stood in the lobby of the Dirksen federal building on Tuesday and tearfully read a message to the leaders of ISIS, the so-called "Islamic State."
"Leave our children alone," Mrs. Khan said to the TV cameras, shortly after her 19-year-old son entered a plea of not guilty to a one-count indictment charging him with trying to provide material support to a terrorist organization. "The venom spewed by these groups and the violence committed by them find no support in the Quran and are completely at odds with our Islamic faith," she said.
Attorneys for the Bolingbrook teenager and federal prosecutors in Chicago agree that Mr. Khan was recruited by foreign terrorists who are waging aggressive social media campaigns to sign up potential jihadists in the United States.
"Children are being brainwashed by social media," said Thomas Durkin, Khan's attorney. Khan's mother asked ISIS to stop using social media to recruit children here.
Her oldest son, Mohammed Khan, was arrested on Oct. 4 at O'Hare International Airport as he and his 17-year-old sister and 16-year-old brother were trying to board a flight to Vienna. They planned to travel on to Istanbul and then to Syria. Customs agents arrested the oldest Khan and he has been held without bond. His siblings were questioned the FBI but have not been charged. Outside the Chicago court on Tuesday an attorney representing the sister, now 18, said that she and her younger brother could still face charges. Lawyer Marlo Cadeddu said the siblings are not "out of the woods."
Regardless, defense attorneys say that traveling to another country doesn't translate to providing material support to terrorists. Federal investigators contend that the Khan teenagers planned to get to the Middle East where they would join ISIS.
The original criminal complaint in October alleged that Khan was to meet with a contact in Turkey who would then take him to Islamic State locations in Iraq or Syria. Khan allegedly told federal agents he expected to engage in "some type of public service, a police force, humanitarian work or a combat role."
At a detention hearing last November, prosecutors stated that a search of the family home authorities found pro-Islamic State materials as well as handwritten letters from the teens expressing contempt for America and begging their parents not to go to police.
"My heart is crying with the thought I left you and I probably will never see you again in this (world)," the 17-year-old girl wrote to her mother. "...The future is very uncertain. By the time you are reading this we could be captured, or stranded or possibly even killed."
Investigators say there was no evidence the parents knew about their children's plans. Khan's mother told authorities she thought her youngest son was asleep in his room-when in fact he was at O'Hare preparing to depart for what prosecutors maintain was a jihadist mission.
Mohammed Khan's attorney says the teenager has strong religious beliefs and is holding up well in the federal lock-up. "It's not Guantanamo. It's not a (covert) 'black site.' But he's ok," said Durkin.
In the past few years, federal law enforcement agencies in Chicago and elsewhere have interrupted the plans of numerous American Muslims to travel to Syria for jihadist training. Many were recruited and radicalized by terrorist internet sites social media pages, investigators have said.
U.S. officials believe there are about a dozen Americans currently enlisted in extremist groups in Syria. For a time authorities considered a much higher number-as many as 100-were fighting with radical forces overseas. Last fall FBI director James Comey said the U.S. only identified about 12 Americans currently in Syria fighting. European nations, including France, have determined that many more of their radicalized citizens, perhaps in the thousands, have gone to the Middle East to take up arms with jihadists.
Radio Free Europe has reported that 930 French fighters are involved "in jihad," along with about 100 from Spain, 450 from Germany and at least 600 from the United Kingdom. France Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in December that 1,200 French citizens had left the country to fight.
Some of those responsible for last week's deadly attack on a satirical newspaper in Paris were French citizens who had traveled to Yemen where they were trained by al Qaeda terrorists. They returned to France where last week they used the combat skills that were taught to them by al Qaeda, authorities have said.
As for the suburban Chicago mother who Tuesday called out ISIS for recruiting young Americans-she is insulated by thousands of miles. In Syria, ISIS leaders have dealt swiftly with those they consider to be an enemy. Critics, journalists, Americans, western sympathizers and even Muslims who don't walk the ISIS line, have been killed in the past year. While ISIS isn't known for its transparency and doesn't report a weekly death toll, there have been numerous televised beheadings by jihadists. The terrorist group has boasted that is responsible for lopping off the heads of dozens of people in 2014 alone.
Mom of teen terror suspect tells ISIS to 'Stop recruiting our kids'
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