American arrested, accused of wanting to join al-Qaida, feds say
He was a 20-year-old community college student, a single father to an infant daughter and a failed National Guardsman living in a trailer park outside Lodi, Calif.
Online, Nicholas Teausant took on a different persona, authorities allege. On Instagram, he was “Assad Teausant bigolsmurf,” who posted that he despised the U.S. and that he wanted “to join Allah’s army but I don’t even know how to start.” On ask.fm, he was “assadthelion” who wrote, “how do you bring america to its knees?” On Facebook, he allegedly met “brothers” with whom he discussed a plot to blow up the Los Angeles County subway system.
Teausant, an American citizen, was arrested Sunday night as the Amtrak bus he was on neared the Canadian border in Blaine, Wash. Authorities said he told a paid FBI informant that he intended to make his way to Syria, where he wanted to fight on the side of al-Qaida.
He was charged with a single count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and appeared before a federal court in Washington on Monday afternoon. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted, according to prosecutors.
Federal authorities outlined in an affidavit extensive exchanges between the informant and Teausant, in which Teausant allegedly detailed his desire to travel to the Middle East to join Islamic extremists and harm the United States. Teausant had enrolled as a trainee with the U.S. Army National Guard but never entered basic training because he lacked the minimum qualifications, according to the affidavit.
The informant befriended Teausant last fall, posing as a fellow convert to Islam. Teausant told the informant “his goal was maximum fear and a maximum blow to the U.S. government so he could watch it tumble and fall in the wake of a civil war,” according to the affidavit.
“I’ll do the acting, I’ll be the pawn. You just figure out the brainy stuff,” he told the informant, authorities alleged.
In December, he sent a text message to the informant asking how he could obtain fireworks, according to the affidavit. “The big loud one! With the biggest boom and the one that’s also compact!!” Teausant allegedly wrote in the message.
He then allegedly texted: “Don’t go to LA Anytime soo(n) ... Please trust me on this ... and if you do go don’t use the subway.” Teausant told the source over the phone that he and a group of people had discussed “hitting” the Los Angeles-area subway on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, authorities alleged. (The Sacramento-based FBI agent who wrote the affidavit pointed out in a footnote: “While not well known, there is a subway/rail system in Los Angeles.”)
Teausant later said the plot had been called off because authorities had been tipped off, according to the affidavit.
It’s not clear how seriously authorities took the threat — Teausant allegedly said he discussed the plot on a camping trip with seven people, but the agent wrote in the affidavit that “the investigation has not corroborated the camping trip.”
A Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman declined to discuss whether the agency had been alerted to the threat or measures were taken in response. A spokeswoman for the FBI in Los Angeles said in a statement: “Throughout the investigation, the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Los Angeles worked closely with the JTTF in Sacramento to assure the safety of the Los Angeles area.”
In January, Teausant allegedly began discussing plans to travel to Syria — to fight with a group whose name he wasn’t entirely sure of.
“Islamic state of um crap ... I forget. Islamic State of Al Sham,” he told the informant, trying to refer to a violent al-Qaida affiliate known variously as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, according to the affidavit.
Teausant told the informant he planned on telling his mother that he was going snowboarding and that custody of his young daughter would go to his mother. He boarded an Amtrak train bound for Canada on Saturday on a ticket he purchased by selling his laptop. (The informant arranged the sale, to an undercover FBI agent.)
Teausant also allegedly mentioned wanting to bomb his daughter’s day-care center because it was at a “Zionist reform church.” On Monday, the church’s pastor said he had not been alerted by authorities and that he learned of Teausant’s remarks only when reporters started calling.
Teausant was “rarely here to pick up any child,” said Pastor Matthew Duerr of Zion Reformed Church. “We know absolutely nothing about him.”
Duerr said he wasn’t sure how much of a threat Teausant posed to the day care but said he was glad authorities had been on to the man.