US judge orders psychiatric care for NC man accused of trying to join al-Qaida group in Syria

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RALEIGH, North Carolina — A federal judge on Wednesday ordered psychiatric treatment for a North Carolina man so that he might be 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 ordered Basit Sheikh of Cary hospitalized for up to four months.

The 15-minute court hearing featured Sheikh arguing in a stream-of-consciousness lecture that he was mentally sound and that the U.S. should pay reparations for war deaths in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East: "100 camels worth of monetary compensation."

Boyle told Sheikh that he faced an involuntary hospital stay during which he could receive psychiatric drugs to see if he could be made to understand the seriousness of the charges and to help his lawyer defend him.

"No thanks. No thanks, I'm perfectly all right," Sheikh replied. "My belongings should be returned to me and I should be allowed to leave this country."

The Pakistan-born 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.

Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser, told National Public Radio on Wednesday that more than 100 Americans are among the estimated 18,000 foreigners who have attempted to travel to, or arrived on battlefields in, Iraq and Syria.

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 in May became the first American suicide bomber in the Syrian war.

Sheikh is charged with 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 battling against Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops.

Sheikh's mother testified last year 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 last year. He is a permanent, lawful U.S. resident but not a citizen, his attorney has said.


Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio.

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