AUSTIN (KXAN) – An Austin man pleaded guilty Friday to charges he attempted to provide material support and resources to a terrorist organization.
Michael Wolfe, 23, was arrested on the jetway at Houston’s Intercontinental airport as he prepared to leave the country and join up with ISIS to engage in jihad in Syria. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he was preparing to fly to Canada, then to Iceland and on to Denmark where he would eventually make his way to Turkey to meet an undercover FBI agent who promised to take him to Syria.
“What you want to try to rule out is any individual coming from the United States to a foreign country to carry out an act of terrorism,” said Fred Burton, vice president of intelligence at Stratfor.
Burton, a counter-terrorism expert, went on to say, “Usually in these kinds of cases your defense attorney is going to take two paths. They’re either going to plead not guilty or they’re going to try to arrange for some sort of cooperation with the government.”
In Friday’s hearing, Wolfe acknowledged that he got a passport, began working out and practiced “military maneuvers” in preparation for his trip to Syria.
According to the federal criminal complaint, Wolfe told an undercover investigator that he was doing “Cross-Fit” to physically prepare for jihad.
Wolfe will face sentencing before a federal judge. He’s facing 15 years in prison, which Burton says could be less with cooperation.
“You’re going to want to peel back the onion, or the term we would use, walk back the cat, and try to develop more information from this kind of suspect.”
Burton says the guilty plea could also mean something else. “I think that’s also a very plausible explanation that he is so committed to the cause, he is taking great pride in to the aspect that he was going over to try and help the jihad.”
However, one thing is clear, Burton said. “I don’t expect to see him out or released on the streets of Austin anytime soon, even if he continues to cooperate. I think Mr. Wolfe is looking at many years in prison for what he was planning to do, or trying to do. And again, it’s going to boil down to the level of cooperation he has, as to any sentence leniency.”
Wolfe and the undercover agent began communicating in late 2013. Court documents detail their conversations as well as Wolfe’s plans to fly his family from Texas to Denmark under the guise of attending a concert.
He was arrested the same day FBI agents raided a Round Rock home and arrested Rahatul Ashikim Khan, 23. Authorities say he conspired with others to recruit people who would “travel overseas to support terrorist activities including committing violent jihad.”
Khan has a detention hearing Monday afternoon in federal court.
ISIS making headlines
ISIS, or Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham/Syria, has been making headlines as one of the jihadist groups contributing to destabilizing Iraq.
Formerly known as al Qaida in Iraq, ISIS, sometimes called ISIL,
Leaders of the core of al-Qaida objected to the group’s attacks on fellow Muslims in Iraq, worrying that would hurt the larger cause of jihad against the West.
The Islamic State aggressively moved into Syria in 2013, two years into that country’s uprising. The group changed its name, clashed with other rebel factions and eventually had a falling out with the main al-Qaida organization, which formally disavowed it in February.