HOUSTON (KTRK) -- A man arrested on three terror-related charges faced a federal judge for the first time in downtown Houston Friday.
Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, 24, arrived to the federal court building for his 10am hearing. Even though he answered several of the judge's questions in English, he requested a translator to communicate.
Al Hardan is a Palestinian born in Iraq, but has lived among us since November 2, 2009, when he entered the United States as a refugee. He was also granted status as a permanent legal resident around August 22, 2011. In court, he told the judge he went to school through the 11th grade in Jordan.
The man told the judge that he is married, with a baby. In addition, his mother and father also live in Houston.
Prosecutors say Al Hardan has been assisting ISIS with material support and resources since at least May of 2014. He now faces three charges, including the attempt to provide material support to ISIS, procurement of citizenship or naturalization unlawfully, and making false statements to investigators.
"The charges are basically aiding and abetting a terrorist organization, procuring or attempting to procure American citizenship under false pretenses, and making false statements to the federal government in order to make sure those things occur," said United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson.
Al Hardan allegedly misrepresented himself as not having associations with any terrorist organization when prosecutors say he in fact was connected to members and sympathizers of ISIS throughout 2014.
Prominent immigration attorney Gordon Quan says the application for US citizenship has been revised in recent years to include very specific questions about a person's military and weapons involvement. However, actually filing charges based on a citizenship application is fairly rare.
"It's a very unusual situation, but the potential exists. I think part of it is to inhibit people who would not have qualified filing documents of this nature," said Quan, who is not doing any work related to this case.
The six-page indictment, which was unsealed overnight also alleges that Al Hardan also stated he never received any type of weapons training. Prosecutors say that statement was false, and that Al Hardan had received training on how to fire an automatic machine gun.
Al Hardan was arrested Wednesday at the Office of Homeland Security, but officials would not go into details about the arrest. What we do know, however, is that prosecutors now believe Al Hardan did not plan a specific attack in the Houston area.
A bond hearing is set for next Wednesday, where witnesses and more testimony is expected in the case.
Al Hardan faces the possibility of spending 20 years in a federal prison and a fine of $250,000 on the charge to provide support to ISIS alone. The charge of procuring false citizenship carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.
The U.S. Attorney's Office says it is working to connect Al Hardan to another refugee who was arrested in Sacramento on terror charges, but would not elaborate.
Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab, 23, of Sacramento, is accused of traveling to Syria to fight and then lying to investigators about it, reports KGO-TV.
"International terrorism is a high priority of my office," says U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson. "We worked closely with the FBI Terrorism Task Force to ensuring the safety of the public in these matters. We will do everything we can to make sure cases of this ilk are brought to justice."