Just a few weeks ago a Catholic-born, American man –- a former military school student, special forces aspirant, law enforcement officer and bodybuilder — set off on a path far from any he’d envisioned for himself as a kid in North Carolina: on the other side of the world, in Lebanon, he was trying to figure out how to get into Syria and join ISIS, the most radical, bloodthirsty terrorist group of our times.
Don Morgan, 44, said he was answering a higher calling.
“My reason for the support of ISIS is because they’ve proven time and time again to put Islamic law as the priority and the establishment of an Islamic state as the goal,” Morgan told NBC News.
Just days after Morgan spoke to NBC News, he was picked up by U.S. officials at JFK airport in New York City. He was arrested not for links to terrorism, however, but on a weapons charge: he’s accused of trying to sell a rifle online. Morgan had previously been convicted of a felony, so it’s illegal for him to possess a gun. An FBI agent testified at a court hearing in Brooklyn that investigators had been following his on-line statements of support for ISIS and his desire to join the group. Morgan pleaded not guilty.
He only worked out at odd hours, and kept mostly to himself. And he changed his appearance: Morgan grew a beard, shaved his head and donned a skull cap. And he founded an Islamic Center in a small building not far from downtown Salisbury. The center’s Facebook page shows Morgan posing with apparent members of the community.
In January, Morgan traveled to Lebanon and remained there through July. He began to use the handle Abu Omar al-Amreeki on Twitter, describing himself as a mujahid, or holy warrior. He made contacts with members through social media who he said ‘vetted’ him and advised him how to cross the border.
On June 29, 2014 he wrote “officially” pledge his allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
In subsequent postings, he retweeted photos and videos praising al-Baghdadi. He described himself as “Mujahid pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi and Islamic state commanding good and forbidding evil.”
He wrote, “To brothers in Iraq, be patient. Many of us trying to come.” … “Allah, you brought me here and I need to take rest of my journey to join the most beautiful brothers on earth” … “Give me martyrdom, wherever I may be”
When NBC News interviewed Morgan in Lebanon this summer, he said he’d already tried to enter Syria through Turkey, but was stopped at the airport in Istanbul.
“It was planned” he said of his attempt. “I mean, after a considerable amount of prayer and planning everything through, I began to dissolve my effects in the U.S., personal property, items that I owned…. I began to set up things that would protect those that I was leaving behind and then, after all of that, I purchased the ticket with the intent of entering to Syria, either joining up with medical and food aid convoys or directly with Islamic State.”
Morgan said after Turkey turned him away, he was looking at other ways to get into Syria. But at the time we interviewed him, he was low on money. This may be why, after our interview, he returned to the United States. He knew it would be risky.
At a detention hearing after Morgan was arrested in New York, prosecutors mentioned the tweets and suggested that he was dangerous. Morgan’s lawyer argued that, while his client expressed support for ISIS, and even talked about planning to go to Syria to join the group, he never actually went through with it.
Our interview and reporting suggest that it was not for lack of trying.
Full article and video at NBC News.com.
Click the ‘North Carolina’ category link too. NC is home to dozens of jihadis, many convicted and in jail.
We know of at least one other North Carolina Muslim supporting ISIS. Does the FBI know him yet?
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