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Pakistani Doctor in US Charged With Trying to Aid IS

FILE - The U.S. Justice Department headquarters in Washington.
FILE - The U.S. Justice Department headquarters in Washington.

A Pakistani doctor employed as a research coordinator at a medical clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, was arrested by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and charged with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State group.

The U.S. Justice Department said in a news release Thursday that Muhammad Masood, 28, was arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport while attempting to meet an individual who he believed would assist him with travel to IS territory.

The department said Masood had made several statements to others regarding his terror intentions, “including pledging his allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham and its leader, and expressing his desire to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS.”

The Justice Department also said Masood expressed his desire to launch “lone wolf” terrorist attacks in the U.S.

The Pakistani government has not issued an official response regarding the arrest of and charges against Masood. Further information on Masood’s place of education and residence within Pakistan was unavailable.

Undercover informants

However, U.S. officials said Masood entered the U.S. in February 2018 under an H-1B visa. He came under the FBI radar earlier this year, in January, after he sought assistance from undercover informants through a social media platform to travel and “fight on the front line” in the Middle East and South and Central Asia.

According to the official criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, Masood sent a copy of his Pakistani passport to an FBI informant where it was cross-checked by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and verified that he was a licensed medical doctor in Pakistan. The DHS also confirmed Masood’s residence and employment at a known medical clinic in Rochester as a research coordinator.

Masood explained that he had been radicalized by lectures from Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemini American cleric and recruiter for al-Qaida.

"As [a] doctor, I want to help mujahedeen on the ground. Sometimes I want to attack enemy when I am behind enemy lines itself … many people can’t even reach here to attack," he reportedly wrote in a message exchange with an FBI informant.

On February 19, Masood met with the FBI informant and engaged in communication with individuals he believed to be IS commanders located overseas to vet him for IS. Two days later, he purchased a plane ticket from Chicago to Amman, Jordan, from where he planned to travel to Syria.

U.S. officials said Masood’s plans to travel this month changed after Jordan closed its borders because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sought flight to Los Angeles

He later attempted to fly from Minneapolis to Los Angeles to meet with an individual whom he believed would assist him in traveling via cargo ship to IS territory.

Prior to his arrest Thursday, agents confirmed Masood’s travel arrangements, leased housing termination and employment resignation.

The district attorney’s office in Minnesota declined to make further statements on the case when contacted by VOA.