A Pakistani doctor who sought to join the ISIS extremist group to fight in Syria and spoke of attacks on US soil was jailed for 18 years on Friday.
Muhammad Masood, 31, pleaded guilty a year ago in a Minnesota court to attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organisation.
Prosecutors said he tried and failed to travel from the US to Syria through Jordan in 2020, then agreed to fly from Minneapolis to Los Angeles to meet someone he thought would help him with a sea journey to ISIS-held territory.
FBI agents arrested him at a Minneapolis airport on March 19, 2020, after he checked in for his flight.
Prosecutors said Masood was in the US on a work visa. They alleged that from January 2020, he made several statements to paid informants – whom he believed were ISIS members – pledging his allegiance to the group and its leader. Prosecutors also said he expressed a desire to carry out “lone wolf” attacks in the US.
A sworn statement from the FBI said agents began investigating in 2020 after learning that someone, later determined to be Masood, had posted messages on an encrypted social media platform indicating an intent to support ISIS.
Masood contacted one of the informants on the platform and said he was a medical doctor with a Pakistan passport and wanted to travel to Syria, Iraq or northern Iran near Afghanistan “to fight on the front line as well as help the wounded brothers”, the statement said.
The Mayo Clinic, a US network of hospitals, has confirmed that Masood had worked at its medical centre in Rochester, Minnesota, but said he was not employed there when he was arrested.
ISIS took control of large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014, and it drew fighters and supporters from across the world. The group lost its hold on that territory in 2019.
UN analysts said last week that it still commands 5,000 to 7,000 members across its former stronghold, despite recent setbacks, and that its fighters pose the most serious terrorist threat in Afghanistan today.
Roughly three dozen Minnesotans – mostly men from the state’s large Somali community – have left since 2007 to join Al Shabab – Al Qaeda’s affiliate in East Africa, which controls parts of rural Somalia – or militant groups in Syria including ISIS.
Several others have been convicted on terrorism-related charges for plotting to join or provide support to those groups.