Mohammed Hamza Khan seemed like any other teenager living in the Chicago suburbs. He goofed around with his friends, worked part time, and went to college. But this 19-year-old may have had a dark and unusual secret
Federal agents arrested Khan in October at O’Hare international Airport trying to board a plane for Austria and then Turkey. Law enforcement officials say Khan was planning to join the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria, the terrorist group known worldwide for public beheadings and a progressive social media campaign aimed at recruiting westerners.
“It’s a very serious charge of allegedly traveling over there to join ISIL,” said Mohammed Kaiserrudin, Chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.
In an unprecedented move earlier this month, the government released 21 exhibits during Khan’s detention hearing, including his journal entries, sketches and his most private thoughts. Some are in English, others Arabic. NBC 5 Investigates had Khan’s writings translated by two different experts.
“My first impression is that this is a disturbed young man,” said Governors State University Professor Khalil Marrar. “But when I dig deeper, when I actually start looking at his words there’s a lot of stuff that begins to make sense as to his motivation.”
Khan’s school notebook is filled with Arabic passages from the Quran - written on the same pages as his notes for math and science.
“That’s what a devout Muslim does,” said Khalil Marrar. “The way that he’s going about it is not any different than say any other Muslim school child doodling around about the Quran.”
Khan’s sketches include the ISIS flag, jihadist fighters and admiration for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“I think these are definitely the writings of a teenager struggling with his identity,” said Marrar. “This person is confused about who they are and they’re trying to sort of play that out literally on paper.”
If interpreted literally some of his Arabic writings clearly point to violence.
“It suggests he’s praising the fact they are killing infidels,” said Marrar. “Liar, dog, monkey, pig, those are all terms used to describe people who are infidels.”
Khan’s attorney Thomas Durkin argues that his client did not act on his thoughts. The US Attorney’s office declined to comment. But both sides of this legal case say there is little doubt khan was radicalized over the internet.
“I don’t think there’s any question about it,” said attorney Tom Durkin.
Durkin says Khan and his 16-year-old brother and 17-year-old sister were recruited in just a matter of months. Khan’s younger siblings were detained and questioned by Federal agents, but not charged. Durkin says that the recruiters used an anonymous texting app Kik – which has roughly 120 million users – to communicate with them.
“That’s what should be most frightening to parents that this didn’t take very long,” said Durkin.
A very real concern within the Muslim community.
“They’re concerned about their own children,” said Mohammed Kaiseruddin, Chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. “Are they subject to this kind of radicalization - This kind of drastic steps that Mohammed Khan did?”