Indiana teen accused of supporting ISIL appears in federal court

This undated photo provided by the United States Attorney's Office, Southern District of Indiana shows Akram Musleh, of Brownsburg, Ind. FBI agents arrested Musleh as he tried to board a bus to New York and join the Islamic State terror group overseas, federal authorities said Tuesday, June 21, 2016. (United States Attorney's Office, Southern District of Indiana via AP)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The attorney for a Brownsburg teenager accused of being a terrorist sympathizer is challenging the validity of the case brought by federal prosecutors.

Akram Musleh is charged with supporting terrorism. The 18-year-old said very little during his initial court appearance Friday following an indictment earlier this month on those charges. A handful of women, later identified as family members of Musleh, smiled at him while others wiped tears during the brief appearance.

In an interview with reporters Friday, Musleh’s attorney Thomas Durkin said the case against his client was trumped up out of the nation’s fear of another terrorist attack.

He also argued that federal authorities should have attempted to help Musleh when they first suspected him of being influenced by radical extremists.

Durkin says his client has been held in isolation in federal prison in Kentucky since his arrest this summer. A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf Friday.

“I don’t think there is an offense here. If you want to talk about the law. We are not talking about insanity. I’d like to know how getting on a Greyhound bus in Indianapolis is an attempt to join ISIS? That’s a question we will try in the courtroom and not out here on the street corner,” Durkin said.

The Chicago-based attorney is well-known for having represented clients accused of either being terrorist sympathizers or being suspected of having ties to terrorism.

Durkin said he was contacted by Akram Musleh’s mother shortly after her son was arrested by the FBI in June while trying to board a Greyhound bus in Indianapolis.

“They came to his high school in Brownsburg when he was 15. There was no help provided. I get it. I understand. That doesn’t mean that they get to arrest someone for getting on a bus. I don’t think that constitutes a federal offense.

But that’s what trials are for.”

Federal prosecutors allege in court documents that they did try to help steer the teen in the right direction.

According to the court documents, a family member introduced Akram Musleh to videos of Anwar Al-Awlaki in 2013. Al-Awlaki was a lecturer and al Qaeda leader who is believed to have been killed during a U.S. drone strike in 2011.

Federal prosecutors have said that Akram Musleh acknowledged that he was aware of Al-Awlaki and would watch his videos at home. “Following this interview, the school, in coordination with the FBI took steps to dissuade Musleh from (sic) engaging in radical extremism.”

Federal prosecutors also allege in court documents that Musleh attempted to influence others to join the terrorist group during an encounter at a Brownsburg park.

They also say Musleh communicated with suspected terrorists online and made three failed attempts to travel to Turkey. At one point, Musleh reportedly told members of Customs and Border Patrol that he was going to get married. It was later revealed in court documents that his fiance was a terrorist sympathizer based in Sweden, the documents allege.

At the time, authorities also recovered Musleh’s journal that included quotes by known terrorists such as Al-Awlaki and Osama Bin Laden.

Musleh’s last attempt to travel overseas in 2015 was thwarted when federal authorities told him he would not be allowed to travel because his passport was set to expire within six months. As late as the spring of 2016, the FBI says Musleh had researched suspected terrorism targets in Indiana and had shopped for – but not purchased – a pressure cooker at a Brownsburg Wal-Mart store.

U.S. Attorney for Southern Indiana District Josh Minkler was not available for comment Friday, according to a spokesman.

But in court, his deputies mentioned that they planned to introduce electronic surveillance and had sought permission from a federal FISA judge in order to do so.

Durkin met briefly with his client after Friday’s hearing but declined to discuss specifics.

“These cases are always poorly done and they are an attempt to enforce foreign policy in court which is always a disaster. These courts aren’t built to determine future dangerousness,” he said.

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