RALEIGH, N.C. — A federal judge appears ready to take another look at a North Carolina man previously declared mentally competent to stand trial on a charge that he sought to join an al-Qaida-linked militant group in Syria.
U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle scheduled a competency and commitment hearing for Basit Sheikh of Cary on Wednesday. In June, Boyle declared Sheikh mentally competent to stand trial.
Sheikh's defense attorney last year sought the evaluation because he said Sheikh may be mentally incompetent to help with his defense.
Sheikh is charged with providing material support to a terrorist group. He was arrested in late 2013, an early target in an FBI effort to arrest Americans expressing interest before they could join terrorist groups fighting in the Syrian conflict.
Activists say more than 200,000 people have died in the country's four-year civil war that spawned the group Islamic State.
The fear in Washington and other Western capitals is that young fighters could become radicalized by al-Qaida-linked groups and return home as battle-hardened, weapons-savvy terrorists. The U.S. believes there are about a dozen Americans fighting alongside extremist groups in Syria, FBI Director James Comey said last fall.
In the past year, authorities have arrested or convicted at least a half-dozen people in Texas, Minnesota and North Carolina who allegedly sought to leave the United States with plans to join the Syria fight. A 22-year-old Florida community college student became the first American suicide bomber in the Syrian war in May.
Sheikh is charged with providing material support to a terrorist group for attempting to join Jabhat al-Nusra, a Syrian militant group the U.S. government has declared a terrorist organization. The FBI says Sheikh wrote messages online expressing a desire to fight with the group, which is fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops.
Sheikh's mother testified that he lived with his parents, likely suffered from anxiety and depression, needed psychiatric help, and spent all of his time on the Internet. He has no criminal record.
Sheikh grew up in the Seychelles, a 155-island country in the Indian Ocean, and moved to the U.S. from Pakistan in 2005, he told Boyle. He is a permanent, lawful U.S. resident but not a citizen, his attorneys have said.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio.