An Australian accused of recruiting foreign fighters for the Islamic State terror group is at the centre of a US constitutional battle in a Texas court.
US prosecutors have charged Mohamed Zuhbi with terrorism offences despite the 25-year-old former Sydney resident not stepping foot in the US.
An arrest warrant has been issued by US authorities for Zuhbi, who is believed to be living “somewhere along the border of Turkey and Syria”, prosecutors told the US District Court in Houston on Friday.
He is accused of helping 21-year-old US citizen and former Australian resident Asher Khan attempt to join IS.
Khan flew from Sydney to Turkey on February 24, 2014, after allegedly communicating with Zuhbi on Facebook.
Judge Lynn Hughes raised the constitutional question late last month when he issued the one-line order: “The United States of America must explain how the constitution gives the court jurisdiction over Mohamed Zuhbi.”
Prosecutors hit back on Friday, telling the judge Zuhbi’s actions in providing IS fighters was “criminal activity that harmed the interests of the United States and threatened its security”.
“The fact that Zuhbi was located outside the United States throughout the conspiracy is immaterial because the statutory requirement is satisfied so long as one conspirator was within United States jurisdiction,” prosecutors wrote in Friday’s court filing.
Judge Hughes is yet to rule on the issue.
Soon after Khan made it to Turkey his family members allegedly tricked him into returning to the US with a false story about his mother being gravely ill in hospital.
A friend of Khan from Texas, Sixto Garcia, flew from Houston to Turkey at the same time and planned to travel with Khan to Syria, according to prosecutors.
Khan, “as soon as” he was back in the US, allegedly introduced Garcia to Zuhbi.
They met at a hotel in Turkey and Garcia later informed Khan that after attending training camps “he had finally joined” IS, prosecutors said.
On Christmas Day, 2014, Garcia’s mother was told her son had died fighting.
Zuhbi and Khan have been indicted on charges including conspiring to provide material support to IS and conspiring within the US to kill persons in a foreign country.
They face life in prison if convicted.
Khan was arrested in Houston last year and will stand trial on September 27.