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Texas man pleads guilty to aiding overseas terrorists, preparing for jihad

AUSTIN, Texas — Less than two weeks after his arrest at a Houston airport, a 23-year-old man pleaded guilty Friday in Austin, Texas, to aiding overseas terrorists, admitting he had planned to join an al-Qaida offshoot gaining force in Syria.

Michael Todd Wolfe, a Houston native who authorities say lived in the Austin area, obtained a passport, went through physical training and practiced military maneuvers to prepare to engage in violent jihad, investigators said. He now faces up to 15 years in prison, though no sentencing date has been set.

Federal court records show Wolfe had been communicating with an undercover investigator who told Wolfe he had helped individuals wanting to travel for jihad in Somalia and Syria. From August 2013 until this month, Wolfe had worked on preparing for the trip.

He acquired birth certificates for himself, his wife and two children. He asked an undercover agent for a pair of durable glasses with a head strap that would hold up on the battlefield, and he was running, doing CrossFit exercises and practicing martial arts, investigators said.

In early August, his wife told an undercover agent that her husband had said his heart yearned to join his Muslim brothers, that he was ready to die for his religion, that “he was ready to die for someone; for something,” according to a criminal complaint.

His plan was for him and his family to travel under the false pretext of going to a concert in Europe, and he bought airline tickets so that he could meet an FBI employee, whom he thought would facilitate his trip to Syria through Turkey, the complaint states.

He was arrested June 17 at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, where he had been attempting to board a plane to Toronto, Ontario, according to the complaint. His itinerary indicated that he intended to travel through Iceland, arriving in Copenhagen, Denmark, the next day. From there, investigators said, he planned to make his way to Syria.

Wolfe was one of two men who made international headlines this month after they were charged with the rare federal offense of providing material support to terrorists. Their cases are two of just six that have been filed in the state over the past decade.

Rahatul Ashikim Khan, 23, of Round Rock, Texas, is accused of recruiting jihadi fighters through an online chat room. A separate indictment out of a Miami federal court obtained by the American-Statesman seems to share ties to the complaint against Khan and alleges possible co-conspirators had been funding three groups, designated by the United States as terrorist organizations, that have operated in Iraq, Syria and Somalia.

Khan is scheduled for a detention hearing Monday.

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