By Bill Mears
A North Carolina man has become the latest American charged in federal court with attempting to assist an al Qaeda militant group involved in Syria's civil war.
Basit Javed Sheikh is accused of "providing material support" to a designated terrorist group.
A criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday says the 29-year-old resident of Cary was arrested at Raleigh International Airport earlier this month, allegedly planning to go to Lebanon.
Prosecutors claim Sheikh was prepared to join the group Jabhat al-Nusrah, or al-Nusrah Front, designated last year by the State Department as a foreign terror organization.
The radical Islamist group has been linked to several hundred attacks in major cities across Syria, in an effort to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has publicly confirmed that group's formal links with al-Nusrah.
Other more mainstream opposition groups have also been locked in a monthslong civil war with the ruling government.
Basit has been appointed two public defenders and was ordered by a magistrate to remain in custody without bail. Calls to his lawyers for comment were not returned.
There was no indication the man's alleged acts were part of a larger terror conspiracy.
An FBI affidavit included in the charges said the defendant allegedly told a government informant he wanted to participate in jihad and had arranged to join "a brigade in logistics, managing medical supplies."
Court documents show the Pakistani native was an active user of online community sites such as Facebook and Skype. One such site promoted Islamic extremism according to prosecutors, where the defendant allegedly made contact with the FBI informant.
Basit reportedly made several attempts to visit the overseas region, including traveling to Turkey in 2012, hoping to go across the border and join various rebel forces in Syria.
He returned to North Carolina weeks later, discouraged by the focus on money by the Free Syrian Army, a more moderate, secular rebel force.
The affidavit states Basit told the informant he was prepared to die as a martyr and "would continue to feel like a hypocrite until he went on jihad."
It was over the summer his plans reportedly escalated, having the informant put Basit in contact with a "trusted brother" to facilitate his efforts to join mujahadeen groups in Syria, inclduing al-Nusrah. That contact turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.
He faces 15 years behind bars and a $250,000 fine if convicted of all the charges.
Basit is the third person charged separately this year with providing material support to Jabhat al-Nusrah.
Two other men were arrested in Chicago and suburban Washington. One, U.S. Army veteran Eric Harroun, reached a plea deal with prosecutors and was released from custody.