A Ladson man accused of trying to join ISIS pleaded guilty in a Charleston federal courtroom Wednesday morning, changing his previous plea of not guilty.
19-year-old Zakaryia Abdin pleaded guilty to one count of providing support to an enemy of the United States. He faces up to 20 years in prison when sentenced at a later date. He is an American citizen of Syrian descent.
“Abdin’s attempt to provide material support to ISIS by traveling overseas put American lives at risk,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in a statement. “That is unacceptable, and I applaud the dedicated agents and prosecutors who stopped him and have achieved this successful outcome.”
The FBI arrested Abdin at the Charleston International Airport in March 2017 when he attempted to board an airplane in order to travel overseas. He initially pleaded not guilty.
He was previously arrested in York County two years earlier after investigators accused him of planning to rob a gun store and use the weapons to kill American troops. Abdin was sentenced on a gun charge and ordered to remain in state juvenile justice custody until he turned 21. However, a parole board released him in May 2016 over the objections of 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett and law enforcement. At time, prosecutors claimed Abdin was still a danger.
Investigators said Abdin created a social media account in January 2017 in an effort to join ISIS. Three weeks later, the FBI said it met with him and warned him that what he was trying to do was illegal, since ISIS is a designated foreign terrorist organization. Instead, prosecutors said Abdin began to seek a handler to get him overseas to Syria or Egypt. However, he ended up contacting an undercover FBI employee he thought was affiliated with ISIS.
During several online conversations with the agent, Abdin said he had given a pledge of loyalty to ISIS and the Caliphate provided a video of a new pledge to its then-Commander Abu Baker al Baghdadi. In those videos, Abdin pledged to “wage jihad against the enemy of Allah.” He also requested to serve in combat and added he was proficient with weapons such as AKs, SKS rifles, and pistols. Investigators said he even bought an SKS rifle, modifying it to expand its capacity from a 10-round magazine to a 30-round.
The FBI said it learned in March that Abdin had received a new passport. That same day, Abdin sent a message to the undercover FBI employee to tell him to “let the brothers know I am coming very soon.”
The agency arrested Abdin at the Charleston airport’s security screening area. Investigators said he had purchased plane tickets with an end destination in Jordan.