US teen arrested at Chicago airport for trying to join ISIS in Syria

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States said on Monday that it had arrested a 19-year-old American at a Chicago airport as he attempted to leave the country to join Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants fighting in the Middle East.

Mohammed Hamzah Khan, who arrived at O'Hare International Airport on Saturday with a roundtrip ticket to Istanbul, was charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organisation, the Justice Department said.

Law enforcement agents who searched Khan's home in the southwest Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook said they had found multiple handwritten letters by Khan and others expressing support for the ISIS group, including travel plans and references to ISIS.

One notebook found in a bedroom he shared with two siblings had a drawing of a route from the United States to Turkey with arrows pointing to it and then to neighbouring Syria, according to the affidavit of Federal Bureau of Investigation Agent Dana McNeal.

Agents also found a letter that Khan apparently wrote to his parents, telling them he was upset that he had to pay taxes to kill fellow Muslims.

"We are all witnesses that the western societies are getting more immoral day by day. I do not want my kids being exposed to filth like this," the note said, according to court "I extend an invitation, to my family, to join me in the Islamic State" (as ISIS calls itself.)

McNeal said federal agents grilled Khan at the airport for three hours on Saturday night.His US$4,000 (S$5,114) ticket was purchased in in late September and had a return date for later this week, the Justice Department said. Authorities said the investigation was still ongoing.

Khan, who was bearded and slight in build, appeared Monday morning in US District Court and remains in custody. He is scheduled for a detention hearing on Thursday. He is the third Chicago-area teen arrested on terrorism-related charges.

Adel Daoud of suburban Hillside, Illinois, was 18 when he was arrested in September 2012 in an FBI bomb plot sting operation, and is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

Another Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, said to be Daoud's friend, was arrested in April 2013 at O'Hare for allegedly trying to travel to Syria to join a terrorist group there. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Khan faces a charge of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organisation. It carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a US$250,000 (S$320,000) fine.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.