A former National Guard soldier from Virginia has admitted traveling to Africa last year and boarding a truck to join the Islamic State extremist group before ultimately bailing out.
Mohamed Jalloh, 27, of Sterling was arrested in July after a sting operation in which he discussed launching a Fort Hood-style attack and purchased an assault rifle. But at a plea hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court, new details emerged showing Jalloh made contact with the Islamic State before the government ever became aware of him.
Jalloh, a naturalized U.S. citizen, admitted Thursday that he traveled back to his native Sierra Leone in June 2015. Two months later, he met up with an Islamic State facilitator with the intention of joining Islamic State fighters in Libya.
In September, Jalloh traveled to Niger, where he planned to join other Islamic State recruits on a truck ride through the Sahara to Libya. Jalloh went as far as to board the truck, but he ultimately abandoned the truck because he decided he was not ready to fight.
In subsequent months, though, he provided payments totaling more than $1,000 to help support the Islamic State.
In January he returned to the United States. In March, Jalloh came to the government’s attention when a now-deceased Islamic State member, identified in court papers as Abu Saad Sudani, alerted an individual who turned out to be a government informant that Jalloh was in the U.S. and could be helpful in carrying out an attack on U.S. soil.
From there, the FBI launched its sting operation. In April, Jalloh told the informant that he opted against re-enlisting in the National Guard after hearing lectures from Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who eventually took a leadership role in al-Qaida.
Military records indicate Jalloh served in the Virginia Army National Guard from 2009 to 2015, when he was honorably discharged.
Jalloh talked with the informant about carrying out an attack like the one carried out by Nidal Hasan in 2009 at Fort Hood, where 13 people were killed. He gave $500 to what he thought would go to the Islamic State, but actually went to an account controlled by the FBI. And in July, shortly before he was arrested, he bought an AR-15 rifle from a Northern Virginia gun store. The FBI had alerted the gun shop to Jalloh, so the rifle he purchased had actually been rendered inoperable.
Jalloh’s attorney, Joe Flood, said in a statement after the hearing that Jalloh accepts responsibility for his actions and entered a guilty plea because he “deeply regrets becoming involved with terrorist ideology, and because he seeks to atone for his crime. At a very low and vulnerable point in his life, Mohamed was exposed to radical teachings renouncing the Syrian government’s brutal repression of innocent Muslims and came to believe that ISIS may offer the only solution to ending that genocide. He understands what he did was wrong and renounces ISIS and every terrorist organization.”
Jalloh will be sentenced in February; he faces up to 20 years in prison.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Dana Boente, whose office prosecuted the case, praised the FBI’s investigation in a statement.
“Jalloh attempted to help facilitate what he believed would be a terrorist attack here in Virginia,” Boente said. “The FBI once again displayed their investigative expertise and commitment to keeping our citizens and communities safe from violent extremists.”
Jalloh is one of a half-dozen men from Northern Virginia arrested in the last year on charges of supporting or attempting to support the Islamic State. Most of those arrests resulted from government stings.