Mohamed Rafik Naji, a Yemen-born New York City resident, pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to one count of attempting to provide support to the Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIS.
“I traveled to Yemen in 2015 to join ISIS and I encouraged another person to join,” Naji told U.S. District Judge Frederic Block during a hearing in Brooklyn federal court, Reuters reported.
Naji, 38, faces a maximum term of 20-years behind bars when he’s sentenced at a later date, the Department of Justice said in a press release.
Naji began publicly expressing support for ISIS on social media starting in December 2014, and in March 2015 he traveled from New York to Yemen in an attempt to join its ranks, according to court documents.
“While in Yemen, Naji repeatedly tried to travel to areas controlled by ISIS, explaining in emails with an associate in the United States that he was on his fifth attempt to reach ISIS,” the Justice Department said Friday.
In the interim Naji documented his attempts in videos and emails he sent to an associate in the U.S. and intercepted by investigators, the Justice Department said.
Naji said he never actually joined ISIS, Reuters reported.
Naji returned to the U.S. in September 2015 after spending several months abroad, but prosecutors said he hardly abandoned his support for ISIS.
After an ISIS-inspired terrorist attack transpired in Nice, France in July 2016, for example, Naji met with an undercover law enforcement informant and discussed the possibility of carrying out a similar operation in Times Square, according to a recorded conversation cited in court documents.
He was ultimately arrested by FBI agents at his home in Brooklyn on Nov. 21, 2016.
“We will continue to identify and prosecute individuals like Naji who seek to empower our nation’s enemies and endanger our citizens and partners around the world,” then-U.S. Attorney Robert L. Capers said in announcing the charges.
Naji is a legal permanent U.S. resident and risks deportation as a result of his guilty plea, Reuters reported.
The Justice Department charged 114 people with ISIS-related offenses in the U.S. between 2014 and late 2017, CNN reported previously. Seventy-six of the 114 are U.S.-born American citizens.