NEW YORK — Two young men living in Brooklyn were arrested Wednesday and charged with plotting to travel thousands of miles to fight under the banner of the Islamic State, the terrorist organization that has seized a wide expanse of Syria and Iraq. A third Brooklyn man was charged with helping organize and fund their activities.
Even as the Islamic State has been waging a brutal war in the Middle East, it has been spearheading an aggressive campaign to recruit Muslims to its cause, using social media to target young people across the world.
It has drawn thousands of fighters from nearby nations, tapping into a range of resentments, from religious oppression to personal disillusionment. More recently, the group has found scores of recruits in Europe, many drawn by the gruesome videos of atrocities that the group uses to promote itself.
Now, according to law enforcement authorities, it has reached into New York City to find three men drawn to the group’s apocalyptic message.
A confidential informant paid by the government played a key role in the investigation, court documents show. Defense lawyers have criticized the government’s reliance on such informers in similar cases, saying they may lure targets into making plans or statements more extreme than they would on their own. And in some cases, the charging documents’ picture of the credibility of the threat outlined in charging documents has turned out to be overstated.
Still, coming just days after the authorities in London said they were looking for three teenage girls who left their homes and are suspected of traveling to Syria to join the jihadists, the arrests of the three Brooklyn men heightened concerns about the reach and threat of the Islamic State.
Law enforcement officials fear not only what people might do if they make it to faraway battlefields but also what they might do at home if they fail to get overseas.
“This is real,” William J. Bratton, the New York City police commissioner, said at a news conference. “This is the concern about the lone wolf.”
One of the men was arrested at Kennedy International Airport, where he was trying to board a flight to Istanbul and then planned to travel to Syria to join the battle, according to the government.
At least two of the men had threatened to carry out attacks on targets in the United States, including planting a bomb in Coney Island, if they failed in their attempt to travel overseas, according to the government.
But their threats of violence had an “aspirational” quality, according to law enforcement officials, with no indication that they were close to staging an attack, large or small.
The men arrested were identified as Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, 24; Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19; and Abror Habibov, 30.
Juraboev, a permanent US resident and a citizen of Uzbekistan, and Saidakhmetov, a permanent US resident and a citizen of Kazakhstan, appeared in federal court in Brooklyn on Wednesday. Habibov, a citizen of Uzbekistan whose visa had expired, was arrested in Florida and appeared in federal court in Jacksonville on Wednesday morning.
On Wednesday before the arrests were announced, FBI Director James B. Comey said the threat posed by sympathizers of Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, was escalating.
“I have homegrown violent extremist investigations in every single state,” Comey said in a speech at a meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General.
The Islamic State, he said, “is putting out a siren song through their slick propaganda through social media that goes like this: ‘Troubled soul, come to the caliphate, you will live a life of glory, these are the apocalyptic end times, you will find a life of meaning here fighting for our so-called caliphate, and if you can’t come, kill somebody where you are.’ ”
The men charged Wednesday appeared to fit that mold, according to court documents. They were influenced by videos posted online by the Islamic State, inspired by messages on social media and felt compelled to act after months of becoming increasingly radicalized.
The court documents show young men driven to travel to the Middle East after clashing at home with family members they considered infidels. One of the young men had his passport taken away by his mother, who had grown concerned about his behavior.
One of the men worked at a Gyro King restaurant, earning about $2,000 a month. Another worked at a mall kiosk, repairing cellphones.