A federal judge ordered a mental evaluation Wednesday for a Suffolk County teen who had secretly pleaded guilty to terrorism charges involving his attempt to join a branch of al-Qaida in Yemen in order, officials said, to wage "violent jihad."
Justin Kaliebe, 18, of Bay Shore and Babylon, pleaded guilty in February to charges of attempting to provide material support to terrorists and to a foreign terrorist organization, according to officials.
"Kaliebe attempted to turn his back on his country and align with radical terrorists," Loretta Lynch, Eastern District U.S. attorney, said in a statement. "His goal was to travel overseas to wage violent jihad against Yemeni and U.S. forces opposed to al-Qaida."
U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Spatt ordered the evaluation at the federal prison hospital in North Carolina at the request of Kaliebe's defense attorneys. The evaluation will determine his mental competency before his sentencing Sept. 27.
In June 2012, Kaliebe told an undercover agent that in Yemen he would be fighting against those who oppose Allah, including American agents, U.S. Special Forces and the Yemeni army, according to a complaint filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham.
When asked by the agent if he was afraid to die, Kaliebe said: "I wanna. . . . It's what anyone would want, any believer would want," the complaint said.
The complaint said that Kaliebe read terrorist propaganda on the Internet, including lectures by Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who headed al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and was killed by an American drone strike in 2011.
The investigation was a joint operation by the FBI and New York City police, officials said.
Kaliebe was briefly registered in the Babylon school district during the 2012-2013 school year, and was enrolled in the BOCES Alternative High School program, the district said in a statement.
Abdul Jabbar, imam of Masjid Daeul Qur'an mosque in Bay Shore, said Kaliebe converted to Islam about a year and a half ago and attended the mosque for a couple of years before that. His background was non-Arabic, he said.
Jabbar said Kaliebe "never spoke about violence or jihad, he just wanted to get out of his house and was looking for an escape. . . . He was a noble, nice and kind kid, who doesn't know what he was doing," with an air of "naivete" about him.
"He came from a broken family," living with one parent in Bay Shore and the other in Babylon, the imam said. "He was just looking for a peaceful situation, consultation, comfort. He wanted some refuge."
Anthony La Pinta, one of Kaliebe's attorneys, declined to comment.
Officials said Kaliebe was arrested in January at Kennedy Airport as he was about to board a flight to Oman on his way to Yemen. He faces up to 30 years in prison at sentencing.
With Fausto Giovanny Pinto