A suburban Chicago man charged with trying to travel with his siblings to Syria to join ISIS pleaded guilty Thursday to attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization.
Mohammed Hamzah Khan of Bolingbrook was arrested last October at O'Hare International Airport along with two of his siblings as they tried to board a plane for Austria and then Turkey. The teens had airline tickets, passports and, according to the prosecutors, a plan to join ISIS.
Khan, who was 19 at the time, was indicted on terrorism charges in January and pleaded not guilty shortly after. On Thursday, Khan changed his plea from not guilty to guilty and the move was approved by a judge.
"He's had a lot of time to think this through," said Khan's attorney Thomas Durkin. “I understand full well why he made this decision. It’s a prudent decision. If you’re a young man with the rest of your life behind you, you don’t want to spend it in a federal penitentiary.”
Khan admitted in the plea agreement that he knew ISIL had been designated by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization and intended to worker under the direction and control of the group once he arrived in Syria, the U.S. attorneys office said Thursday.
With Khan's cooperation, federal prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence of five years in prison.
Khan’s younger brother and sister have not been arrested. Both teens are in counseling.
“These were kids that were born and raised here and they have been used by ISIS recruiters," Durkin said.
Durkin would not say if the plea agreement would help Khan's younger siblings avoid charges, but said the outcome for the siblings is "very favorable."
The teen's parents said in earlier interview they believe their son was brainwashed.
“He was not able to differentiate who he was talking to," said his father Shafi Khan. "How can you trust somebody who is somewhere? All kinds of people over the internet. He was gullible. He was very naive and innocent. If he was smart he wouldn’t talk to somebody he didn’t know.”
Khan lived with his parents in Bolingbrook but has been in custody since his October arrest at O'Hare International Airport.
A conviction carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence, though Khan's attorney says he plans to push for less time. A sentencing hearing was not immediately scheduled, but a status hearing is slated for Dec. 3.
Complete Coverage: Mohammed Hamzah Khan:
05/13/15: Parents of Alleged Terrorist Say Son Was Brainwashed
04/21/15: Documents Reveal Feds' Questioning of Accused Terrorist
03/03/15: Accused Terrorist Appears in Court for Pre-Trial Status Hearing
02/06/15: How Terrorists Recruit Teens Online
01/13/15: Mom to Terrorist Groups: "Leave Our Children Alone"
01/13/15: Teen Pleads Not Guilty to Terrorism Charges
01/09/15: Bolingbrook Teen Indicted on Terrorism Charges
11/26/14: Inside the Mind of Mohammed Khan: Terrorist or Confused Teen?
11/06/14: Feds: Terror Suspect Recruited Siblings for ISIS
10/06/14: Illinois Man Arrested at O'Hare on Terrorism Charge Wanted to Fight for ISIS: Feds