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US Charges Yemeni Man with Trying to Support Islamic State

FILE - NYPD bomb squad unit inspects damage done by an explosive at military recruitment center in Times Square, March 6, 2008. Mohamed Rafik Naji allegedly expressed support for the attack.

A Yemeni man living in New York City was charged Monday with trying to provide support to Islamic State.

A criminal complaint unsealed in federal court details the allegations against 37-year-old Mohamed Rafik Naji, including expressing support for an attack in New York's Times Square similar to one claimed by the Islamic State group in Nice, France.

"I was saying if there is a truck, I mean a garbage truck and one drives it there to Times Square and crushes them," Naji is quoted as telling an informant in one of several recorded conversations. "They want an operation in Times Square, reconnaissance group already put out a scene, the Islamic State already put up scenes of Times Square"

Prosecutors say the case against Naji included posts on Facebook showing support for Islamic State, one of which featured a YouTube video of the militant group's spokesman calling for attacks on civilian and military targets in Western nations.

The complaint says Naji traveled to Turkey and Yemen in an attempt to reach areas controlled by Islamic State, and that his girlfriend sent money to him in Yemen on multiple occasions. The document states that the informant initiated their contact on Facebook beginning in August 2015, and that the two first met in person in December of that year and again in July 2016.

Naji's attorney, Susan Kellman, told WCBS-TV there was an explanation for his travel to Yemen.

"Of course, the fact that he has family over there and three children didn’t seem to affect the government one way or the other, but he certainly had legitimate reasons to be over there," she said.

U.S. Attorney Robert Capers noted a family link in another document filed Monday arguing there is a risk Naji could flee the country and thus should not be released from custody before trial.

"He is a legal permanent resident of the United States but was born in Yemen, where he has close ties, including a child. The defendant also faces the possibility of a significant term of imprisonment and is thus highly motivated to flee the jurisdiction," Capers wrote.