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East Lansing resident arrested trying to leave country, claiming to go join Islamic State

February 20, 2015

An East Lansing resident who came to the U.S. in 2013 as a refugee from Iraq is charged with lying to federal officials about plans to join the Islamic State in Iraq and conduct jihad, according to court documents.

Al-Hamzah Mohammad Jawad, a 29-year-old who shared an apartment in East Lansing with an MSU student, told FBI agents that he had been recruited to join IS by a childhood friend and that he intended to travel from Jordan to Iraq, where he was to attend six months of training.

In preparation, he had been running to get in shape and had been to a shooting range, he told agents.

But later, when no evidence of the communications between Jawad and his friend could be found on either his cellphone or his laptop, he rescinded the statements, saying he had fabricated the entire story.

Unable to provide an explanation as to why he had, Jawad only stated that "his home life was messy."

On Feb. 17, relatives dropped Jawad off at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport for a flight to Amman, Jordan.

US Customs and Border Protection personnel held an interview with Jawad and grew concerned when he could not explain why he had purchased the one-way ticket a day before his departure.

The customs personnel then alerted a Detroit-branch FBI special agent, who undertook further questioning. 

Initially, Jawad said he planned to visit his mother, who is a professor in Amman. But then, after several minutes, he began stating that a childhood friend recruited him to fight with IS, that he was ultimately to travel to Fallujah, Iraq, for six months of training and that he had pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the self-styled caliphate referred as the Islamic State.

In Iraq, the friend had a uniform waiting for him, he said. 

Communications took place over cellphone email, Jawad said, and once he had arrived in Iraq, he was to call the friend.

But when he provided consent to law enforcement to search his phone, the search was fruitless — no evidence of these communications, or of the friend's number, could be found.

After a separate search of his laptop at his East Lansing apartment yielded similar results, Jawad told federal agents that he had fabricated the entire story — everything from the contact with his childhood friend, to his mission of conducting jihad in Iraq.

Agents contacted Jawad's brother, who had dropped him off at the airport. The brother was surprised to hear of Jawad's alleged plans and said though they didn't spend every day together, he didn't think his brother to be a radical or IS supporter.

Jawad's East Lansing apartment roommate, who is a student at MSU, told federal agents that, over the past several weeks, Jawad had been acting strangely. The two hardly saw each other though, he said, as they had different work schedules.

Jawad's detention hearing is slated to take place today at Detroit’s federal court.

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