MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin man accused of traveling to Turkey as part of a failed attempt to join the Islamic State in Syria was ordered held without bond Thursday for trying to aid a terrorist group.
Joshua Van Haften, 34, made his first court appearance a day after being arrested at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. During the brief hearing in federal court in Madison, Van Haften did not contest his detention.
A newly unsealed criminal complaint charges Van Haften with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
The complaint, which had been under seal since Oct. 28, alleges that Van Haften talked to people about his plan before leaving the United States in August for Istanbul. But it says he was unable to cross the border into Syria.
The complaint says Van Haften's former roommate told FBI officers that he made comments referring to jihad. When asked to explain what he meant, the complaint says, Van Haften folded a $100 bill to make it look like the twin towers of the World Trade Center that were destroyed in the Sept. 11 attack. The complaint says Van Haften folded another $100 bill to look like a missile.
Van Haften's lawyer, Joseph Bugni, said he looks forward to "having all the facts brought to light."
The next hearing was set for April 24.
U.S. Attorney John Vaudreil called Van Haften a flight risk. He also said Van Haften's mental health will likely come into question during the trial.
"In any case like this the first thing we think is, 'What was this person thinking?'" Vaudreil said.
But he said Van Haften does not appear incompetent or mentally ill. Vaudreil said Van Haften acted alone and FBI agents are not currently seeking accomplices.
The complaint also cites Facebook posts from Van Haften about his inability to cross the border from Turkey into Syria. In one post, Van Haften complained that the people who were supposed to help him just wanted his money, that he had almost no cash left and that he was dropped off on a road in the country and never picked up.
Wisconsin court records show Van Haften has several previous convictions, including felony battery in 1998, second-degree felony sexual assault in 1999 and misdemeanor disorderly conduct in 2007. Online court records show all of the offenses occurred in Rock County.
Van Haften was sentenced to three years' probation on the battery conviction in 1998, but his probation was revoked in 1999 and he was sentenced to a year in jail. He was sentenced to eight years' probation on the sexual assault charge in 1999, but that was revoked in 2000. He was then sentenced to seven years in prison.
U.S. intelligence agencies said in February that as many as 150 Americans have tried to reach the Syrian civil war zone to join the Islamic State group.
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