What Are You Charged With if You're Caught Joining ISIS?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 30, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There have been multiple reports recently of U.S. authorities arresting and charging people who've tried to support ISIS, also known as the Islamic State. Just this month, six Minnesota men were apprehended trying to travel to Syria and join the terrorist group.

So what, exactly are these would-be terrorists charged with? And what are possible penalties for trying to join ISIS?

Un-Patriotic Acts

Section 2339B, title 18 of the United States Code is part of the USA Patriot Act of 2001. The section prohibits providing material support to terrorists, including:

...any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safehouses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel (1 or more individuals who may be or include oneself), and transportation, except medicine or religious materials.

A person may also be convicted for concealing or disguising "the nature, location, source, or ownership of material support or resources, knowing or intending that they are to be used in preparation for, or in carrying out" acts of terrorism. And any attempt or conspiracy to provide material support is also illegal.

In the case of the Minnesota men, they are likely charged with conspiracy, meaning their agreement to try and join, and attempting to provide ISIS with personnel, meaning traveling to Syria themselves.

Federal Felony

Section 2339B also determines that a person convicted of violating the Act may be "fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life."

The six Minnesota men have already appeared in federal courts in St. Paul, Minnesota and San Diego, California. It may be a long time before their legal fate is settled. Although the material support section of the law has been criticized for being overly broad, evidence in this case suggests that the men made multiple attempts to travel to Syria, even after being apprehended and sent home by federal authorities and one man's older brother has been indicted for joining the Somali-based terrorist group al-Shabaab.

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