Federal prosecutors say a 20-year-old California man has been arrested in Blaine and accused of attempting to get to Syria to provide support to a terrorist group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
The Justice Department announced Monday, March 17, that Nicholas Teausant, of Acampo, Calif., was planning to travel to Canada en route to Syria to join the group, which is a faction in the Syrian civil war that has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization.
In a criminal complaint filed in Sacramento, Teausant was charged with a single count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. During a hearing at U.S. District Court in Seattle, he agreed to be returned to Sacramento to face the charge.
Tall and lanky with closely shorn hair and a thin beard, Teausant appeared in court wearing a white T-shirt and tan pants. He sat hunched beside a lawyer appointed for that hearing, answering "Yes, ma'am" or "No, ma'am," to questions posed by Magistrate Judge Mary Alice Theiler.
On Sunday, March 16, Teausant had indicated on his Facebook page that he was on an Amtrak train near Olympia, and was bound for London. A family member responds, "Please don't leave the country, no matter what you do! We love and care about you so much!"
In a court document supporting the criminal charge against Teausant, an FBI agent said Teausant got off the train in Seattle and boarded a Vancouver, B.C.-bound bus. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers stopped the bus in Blaine at 11:40 p.m. Sunday and took Teausant into custody.
The FBI statement said Teausant was a student at San Joaquin Delta Community College in Stockton. He also had been a soldier in the U.S. Army Reserve but was no longer active and was being discharged for failing to meet basic academic requirements.
The statement contained little indication that Teausant had the means or the competence to launch a terror attack, nor was there much indication that he had discussed his plans with anyone other than undercover agents and social media contacts.
The FBI agent's statement indicated that Teausant had been under investigation for months. Beginning in October 2013, a paid confidential FBI informant had talked with Teausant, a convert to Islam, and Teausant had told the informant repeatedly that he wanted to be involved in some kind of terrorist attack. Some of those conversations were recorded, according to the FBI.
The statement doesn't spell out why the FBI decided to assign the informant to chat with Teausant about jihad and terrorism in the first place. But it does indicate that the FBI was aware of troubling statements that Teausant had made on Instagram and ask.fm as early as May 2013.
The first such comment quotes Teausant as saying, "I been part of the army for two yours now and I would love to join Allah's army but I don't even know how to start."
In July, an online post from Teausant expressed interest in fighting in Syria. In August, he asked for help in obtaining "the Lone Mujahid Pocketbook," which the agent describes as "a how-to guide for becoming a lone wolf terrorist."
Teausant asked for the informant's help in obtaining explosives, according to the FBI. At one point in late 2013, Teausant allegedly told the informant that he and seven others had been plotting to set off a bomb in the Los Angeles subway on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, but the plan fell through. Teausant said he had become suspicious that the authorities had been tipped off, possibly because the fellow plotters he had met on Facebook may have been working with the FBI.
The FBI statement says investigators have been unable to determine if the Los Angeles plot was real.
In early 2014, Teausant told the informant he was determined to go to Syria, and the FBI statement quotes Teausant as saying: "My designs have me staying there (in Syria) and being on every news station in the world. ... I'm going to be a commander and I'm going to be on the front of every single newspaper in the country. ... Like I want my face on FBI's top 12 most wanted, because that means I'm doing something right."
On March 7, 2014, the court document states, the informant introduced Teausant to an undercover law officer who posed as a representative of the Syrian terrorist group. He told Teausant to travel to Canada, and Teausant apparently intended to obey.
Teausant had written a blog entitled, "Just a Muslim man looking for answers in a lost world." In a blog post dated early January 2014, Teausant said he had "reverted" to Islam after a childhood that exposed him to Catholicism, Mormonism and other Christian denominations as his family searched for a church. He wrote that he lost faith in Christianity after reading a book by a Biblical scholar arguing that Christian Biblical texts had been repeatedly amended and distorted in the years after Christ.