- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) - A northern Virginia man admitted Friday that he attempted to join the Islamic State, going so far as to check in at the airport on a flight to Jordan before being arrested in what turned out to be a sting operation.

Joseph Farrokh, 28, of Woodbridge, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to a single count of conspiring to support a terrorist group. He faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced July 15.

At Friday’s plea hearing, Farrokh admitted he made arrangements to join the Islamic State with three men he believed were ISIL facilitators. In reality, though, the men were part of a government sting.

Farrokh first discussed his interest in joining ISIL with one of the three government sources at his own wedding reception, prosecutor Dennis Fitzpatrick said at Friday’s hearing.

Farrokh was arrested in January after checking in at the Richmond airport on a flight itinerary that would have taken him to Jordan.

In conversations recorded by the FBI, Farrokh said he wanted to die a martyr. According to a court affidavit, Farrokh told his own mother, when she expressed concern about his anger, that he wanted Allah to destroy Christians and “make their faces burn in hell’s fire.”

Court records indicate that Farrokh was wary of a government sting and worried that his statements could be fodder for a criminal prosecution, but he still agreed to pledge allegiance to the Islamic state in front of the men who turned out to be government sources.

A second defendant who allegedly helped Farrokh by driving him to the airport, Mahmoud A.M. Elhassan of Woodbridge, remains jailed awaiting trial. At Friday’s hearing, Fitzpatrick revealed new details about Elhassan’s alleged involvement, saying that Elhassan planned to eventually follow Farrokh and join the Islamic State as well.

Elhassan’s lawyer, Ashraf Nubani, did not return a phone call Friday seeking comment.

Farrokh had initially been scheduled to plead guilty Thursday, but prosecutors sought a one-day delay, saying that Justice Department supervisors had not fully signed off on the deal. Prosecutors and defense lawyers were hammering out the final wording of the plea in the minutes leading up to Friday’s hearing. In the final deal, both sides agree that a “terrorism enhancement” should be applied to Farrokh under federal sentencing guidelines. The terrorism enhancement will greatly increase the prison term recommended under federal guidelines, though the judge is not obliged to follow those guidelines when he hands down his sentence.

Also this week, another northern Virginia man, Mohamad Jamal Khweis of Alexandria, turned himself in to Kurdish forces after entering the Islamic State and deciding to defect. Khweis gave an interview to Kurdish television that aired Thursday saying he made “a bad decision” in joining the IS and that life in Mosul, which is controlled by ISIL, is “really, really bad.”

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