Pakistani doctor arrested in US on terrorism charge

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Prosecutors say Masoud pledged allegiance to Daesh, wanted to carry out lone wolf attacks.

Minneapolis: A Pakistani doctor and former Mayo Clinic research coordinator was arrested Thursday in Minnesota on a terrorism charge, after prosecutors say he told paid FBI informants that he had pledged his allegiance to Daesh and wanted to carry out lone wolf attacks in the United States.

Mohammed Masoud, 28, was arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Thursday by FBI agents and was charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organisation.

Prosecutors say Masoud was in the US on a work visa. They allege that starting in January, Masoud made several statements to paid informants – whom he believed were members of the Daesh – pledging his allegiance to the group and its leader. He also allegedly expressed his desire to travel to Syria to fight for Daesh and a desire to carry out lone wolf attacks in the US.

At one point, Masoud messaged an informant “there is so much I wanted to do here .. .lon wulf stuff you know … but I realised I should be on the ground helping brothers sisters kids,’’ according to an FBI affidavit.

Prosecutors say Masoud bought a plane ticket on February 21 to travel from Chicago to Amman, Jordan, and then planned to go to Syria from there. He had planned to leave at the end of March. But on March 16, he had to change his travel plans because Jordan closed its borders due to the coronavirus pandemic. Masoud and one of the informants then developed a plan for him to fly from Minneapolis to Los Angeles to meet with that informant, whom Masoud believed would help him travel in a cargo ship into Daesh territory.

Masoud was arrested Thursday at the airport after he checked in for his flight to Los Angeles. His attorney, Manny Atwal, had no immediate comment.

Court documents do not name the clinic where Masoud worked, but a LinkedIn page for a man with the same name and work history says Masoud has worked at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, since February of 2018, first as a research trainee, but has been a clinical research coordinator since May. A profile on researchgate.net says he has done research in cardiology” he was scheduled to present his research for the Mayo Clinic School of Continuous Professional Development in October 2018, according to an online calendar of the event.

Mayo Clinic spokeswoman Ginger Plumbo said Masoud formerly worked at the medical centre, but “was not employed by Mayo Clinic at the time of his arrest.’’ According to an affidavit supporting the criminal complaint, Masoud said in February that he was going to notify his employer that his last day of work would be March 17.

The affidavit said the FBI began investigating in January, after learning that someone, later determined to be Masoud, had posted messages on an encrypted social media platform indicating an intent to support Daesh.

On Jan. 24, Masoud contacted one of the informants on the encrypted platform and said he was a medical doctor with a Pakistani passport and wanted to travel to Syria, Iraq or the northern region of Iran stretching to Afghanistan “to fight on the frontline as well as help the wounded brothers,” the affidavit said.