The FBI secretly kept tabs on Nicholas Michael Teausant for six months, having a confidential informant meet with him repeatedly in Stockton at breakfast joints, a park and a flea market as the 20-year-old student allegedly spun his vision of jihad against the United States.
Federal court papers say Teausant talked for months of his desire to train fighters in Syria, to bomb the Los Angeles subway system over the New Year’s Day holiday and to spark a civil war that would topple the U.S. government.
The informant repeatedly questioned the young Acampo resident about whether he was serious, according to court filings, telling him he could drop the idea and they would remain friends.
But on Sunday night, after Teausant boarded an Amtrak train in Lodi bound for Seattle, and eventually the Canadian border by Amtrak bus, agents moved in and arrested him on a charge of attempting to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.
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A criminal complaint filed Monday in federal court in Sacramento alleges that Teausant was on his way to Syria to join ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – a foreign terrorist organization more widely known as Iraq’s al-Qaida. It is the second international terror prosecution to emanate from the Lodi area since 9/11.
A student at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, Teausant appeared in federal court in Seattle on Monday afternoon. He waived an identity hearing and a detention hearing, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Alice Theiler ordered him held and transported by the U.S. Marshals Service to Sacramento to face the charge.
Teausant’s family members declined to discuss his arrest.
“I don’t have any comment,” a woman who identified herself as “Nick’s biological mom” said in a brief telephone call.
Details in the criminal complaint raise questions about Teausant’s ability to wage a war against the United States or against perceived enemies in Syria or Iraq.
In Internet postings quoted in the complaint, as well as conversations Teausant had with a confidential FBI source, he said that he “wanted to go to Syria to fight, but did not know how to get there.”
He told the FBI source initially that he could not find his passport, and he expressed concerns that people he had conversed with on Facebook regarding an attack on the Los Angeles subway system might be informants.
He also had difficulty at one point remembering the name of the Syrian group he hoped to join, according to the confidential FBI source quoted in the criminal complaint.
“I like ISIS,” Teausant was quoted as saying, “Islamic State of, um, crap I forget. Islamic State of Al Sham.”
Nevertheless, Teausant, a convert to Islam, continued his plans to travel to Syria, telling the confidential informant earlier this month that he wanted to sell his laptop to raise traveling money, the criminal complaint states.
The informant then brought a “friend” into the equation to buy the laptop: an undercover FBI agent, according to the complaint.
Teausant sold the laptop at a March 8 meeting, indicating “that he had wiped the laptop of information,” the criminal complaint states.
Not quite, says the FBI. The complaint says “there is significant information” on the laptop hard drive, including excerpts from Inspire, an online magazine published in English by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula that purports to offer bomb-making instructions and other advice to would-be jihadists.
The criminal complaint says that Teausant talked of leaving for Syria over spring break “because he could convince his mother that he would be going snowboarding with a friend at Mount Whistler (in Canada) and she would therefore not be suspicious about why he wanted his passport.”
“He said he was never returning to America, unless it was after President Obama was dead, Congress was gone and there was ‘anarchy and chaos,’ ” the informant said, according to the complaint.
Teausant made great use of the Internet to research possible terror activities, the complaint said, downloading a “how-to-guide for becoming a lone-wolf terrorist” and burnishing his claims to have valuable military experience.
On the social networking site Instagram, the complaint states, he is believed to have posted a photo of himself “standing in front of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineering Sacramento sign.” The photo was posted under the account name “Assad Teausant bigolsmurf.”
He boasted that he had a “very serious military side” and expected to rise quickly through the ranks in Syria, according to the complaint.
“I’m going to be a commander and I’m going to be on the front of every single newspaper in the country,” he allegedly proclaimed. “Like, I want my face on the FBI’s top 12 most wanted, because that means I’m doing something right.”
The FBI says in court papers that Teausant actually had no military training, did not own a car, had not attended basic training as part of his assignment to the 118th Maintenance Company in Stockton, and was being released from the National Guard because “he did not meet the minimum qualifications to continue.”
Teausant is said to have confided in a friend at a student mosque that he was a participant in online forums and read Inspire, and that the “friend became upset, asking Teausant, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ and advising him not to ‘talk about that stuff,’ ” the complaint states.
Taj Khan, a Muslim community leader and long-time member of the Lodi mosque, said he believes he saw the suspect in the mosque parking lot.
“I talked to a few other people and they met him at a local store in Lodi,” Khan said. “They were saying that he acted crazy, talking about going to the Middle East, to the point they thought he was an FBI informant and didn’t want anything to do with him. If he was acting crazy and saying crazy things, he should be taken off the street.”
Khan, president of the Delta College Board of Trustees, said Teausant is currently registered at the college but was not known to Muslim American students there.
On Sunday night, Teausant had posted on Facebook that he was “traveling to London, United Kingdom, from Centennial Station.”
But the criminal complaint states Teausant had purchased an Amtrak ticket and left Lodi on Saturday night, with FBI agents shadowing him as he switched trains in Sacramento and headed for Seattle.
With the FBI watching on Sunday night, he got on a bus in Seattle headed for Canada, the complaint states.
Before the bus reached the border, however, Customs agents stopped it and Teausant was arrested.
Teausant’s Acampo apartment is only a few miles from Lodi, where an FBI probe that began in October 2001 eventually ensnared a Lodi ice cream street peddler and his son in allegations of terrorism.
The allegations against Umer Hayat fizzled. But his son, Hamid Hayat, then a 24-year-old cherry packer, was found guilty of international terrorism in 2006 and sentenced to 24 years in prison.
Umer Hayat eventually pleaded guilty to lesser charges not related to terrorism and was sentenced to time served in jail awaiting trial.
If Teausant is convicted, he faces the possibility of a 15-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.