He was a 15-year-old high school honors student in Ellicott City when federal prosecutors say he went online to solicit money for a woman who called herself "Jihad Jane" and "Fatima LaRose."
Authorities say that in Web postings two years ago, the youth "appealed for urgent funds" for the woman suspected of being a terrorist, whose real name is Colleen R. LaRose, 47, of Philadelphia. "I know the sister and by Allah, all money will be transferred to her," he allegedly wrote in a posting.
The FBI arrested the youth, who is now 17, about a month ago and are detaining him in Pennsylvania on terrorism-related charges, according to law enforcement sources and a published newspaper account. He had been accepted to the Johns Hopkins University this fall on a full scholarship. A school spokesman said he has withdrawn.
It is not clear whether the Howard County teenager collected any money for LaRose, who could be sentenced to life in prison when sentenced. She pleaded guilty in February to providing material support to terrorists, including a plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist who had offended Muslims by drawing the Prophet Muhammad's head on the body of a dog.
All records and files pertaining to the teen's arrest have been sealed in U.S. District Court. His name does not appear in any public court filing, and prosecutors and FBI spokesmen in Baltimore and in Philadelphia declined to comment. However, a law enforcement source in Baltimore who is familiar with the case confirmed that the Ellicott City juvenile had been arrested in connection with that case.
Federal authorities rarely arrest juveniles. Law enforcement officials in Baltimore who are familiar with federal prosecutions said they could recall only two juveniles who had been charged federally in Maryland. Both were suspected gang members.
"It is unusual for the federal courts to prosecute juveniles," said Steve Levin, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor. "It's a serious allegation, so it's not surprising that federal prosecutors would consider bringing a charge against a juvenile suspected of participating in a terrorist plot."
The teen's family spoke to The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper, which published an article Friday. In it, the family complained that they had allowed their son to spend a lot of time with FBI agents because they thought it was part of a cooperative arrangement. Relatives, who were not identified by the newspaper, said they didn't expect their son to be arrested.
They agreed to talk to the Inquirer reporter on the condition that the youth be identified only by his first name and first initial of his last name — Mohammed K. The Baltimore Sun confirmed the youth's identity but does not generally name juveniles charged with crimes.
The teen graduated from Mount Hebron High School in the Class of 2011. His name repeatedly shows up on the honor roll, and last year he received an honorable mention in a writing contest sponsored by the CityLit Project. His essay was titled: "Voices Around the World."
His high school principal and teachers declined to comment. The spokeswoman for the Howard County school system, Patti Caplan, said the teen was a "very hardworking student" who pursued several scholarships with universities.
"He was extremely strong academically," Caplan said.
A man who identified himself as the teen's brother declined on Friday to speak to a reporter from The Sun. He answered the door of the family's apartment near Baltimore National Pike and U.S. 29 wearing a red University of Maryland T-shirt.
The brother said family members had said everything they wanted to say. The young suspect's attorney, Jeffrey M. Lindy of Philadelphia, also declined to comment, saying that his client's case was sealed by the court and that it would be improper for him to speak publicly.
The only public information about the Ellicott City youth's alleged connection to "Jihad Jane" comes from the indictment filed against LaRose.
His name does not appear in the document, but a source familiar with the case told The Sun that the youth is listed in the indictment as co-conspirator No. 4.
That person is mentioned twice in the document. Prosecutors say that on July 8, 2009, the conspirator — referred to only as a "resident of the United States" — sent emails to a bulletin board seeking funds to help LaRose:
"I write this message on behalf of a respected sister. … The sister has been in touch with a brother … [who] has appealed for urgent funds stating that his resources are limited. … The sister has provided me proofs that have confirmed that the brother is true. I know the sister and by Allah, all money will be transferred to her."
On Aug. 11, prosecutors said the co-conspirator forwarded a questionnaire to LaRose, in which he had asked another woman about her beliefs and intentions "with regard to Jihad." The questions included whether the woman lived in Europe, had any travel restrictions and from which country her passport had been issued.
The full scope of the government's case against the youth could not be learned, as documents remain under seal.
In LaRose's plea agreement, federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania said the suburban Philadelphia Muslim convert "worked obsessively on her computer to communicate with, recruit and incite other jihadists." Her email addresses included "JihadJane" and "SisterOfTerror," according to court documents.
Among the most incendiary charges are ones related to the cartoonist. Prosecutors said LaRose "accepted an assignment by a co-conspirator to kill" the man and "her co-conspirators opined that LaRose's appearance would help her blend in with non-Muslims and thus achieve her jihadist goals."
Prosecutors said LaRose made travel plans, tried to locate and contact the target and researched how to obtain citizenship in a European country.
LaRose's plea agreement does not identify any of the co-conspirators.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun