A Keyes man was arrested in Tunisia on charges of providing material support to terrorists.
Bernard Raymond Augustine, 21, was traveling toward Libya in early 2016 with hopes of joining Islamic State fighters when he was intercepted in Tunisia. After serving time behind bars there, he was turned over to the FBI, whose agents returned him to the United States for prosecution, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a release Tuesday.
Before leaving the United States, Augustine had expressed support for the Islamic State and violent jihad in social media posts and texts with a family member and a friend, authorities said. He viewed online videos of executions, including beheadings at the hands of terrorists, and he researched firearms and how Americans might join terrorist groups, authorities said.
"I see a lot of very wrong and truly evil things happening in this world, things you dont know about, im not mad or mentally ill," Augustine wrote in an email, an agent said in an arrest warrant affidavit. Agents found the note upon reviewing the family member's cell phone with his or her permission, the document says.
"I really truly am on a path to fight for justice ... I'm doing this so (you) will learn how to protect yourselves from the manipulation of the masters of evil and their lies. ... The good people in this world bring balance and push back against evil. And give their lives freely in the process," he wrote.
Augustine also shared videos, including one showing a child holding a machine gun, and viewed others glorifying multiple murders such as the Boston Marathon bombing and mass beheadings of more than 20 Ethiopian Christians, an agent said in an arrest warrant affidavit.
Augustine attended Pitman High School in Turlock, according to a person who said Tuesday she went to school with him and currently lives in his former neighborhood. He has been listed as a graduate of Roselawn High School, a continuation school in Turlock.
Keyes is just off Highway 99 about eight miles south of Modesto. A woman at Augustine's home there responded via intercom, saying she couldn't comment on the case.
Two years ago, jihadists advised recruits to join them in Libya because that country was easier to enter than traveling to Syria, an Islamic State stronghold, the agent said. A common route led through Tunisia, which is next to Libya in north Africa.
Without telling his family, Augustine in February 2016 bought a one-way ticket from San Francisco to Tunisia the day before he left, a tactic used by those hoping to avoid detection from law enforcement, the agent said. At the San Francisco airport, Augustine told a customs officer he would vacation in Tunisia.
Instead, Augustine was arrested there and convicted in November 2016 of entering that country with intent to join terrorists in nearby Libya, and of providing support to terrorists, and he was sentenced to two years in a Tunisian prison. Later that year, the Islamic State suffered military losses in Libya and largely left that country.
Having served the term in prison, Augustine recently was released to the FBI and returned to the United States to face charges that could result in another 20 years behind bars.
In a hearing Tuesday in Brooklyn, NY, prosecutors argued for a "permanent order of detention pending trial" because "his attempt to join ISIS reflects his embrace of an extremely violent ideology," including "a willingness to fight and die for the violent belief system espoused by ISIS."
He's not the first from this area facing serious similar charges.
Everitt Aaron Jameson, 26, who has ties to Modesto and Merced and attended Enochs High School, is accused of planning a Christmas Day terror attack in San Francisco, according to federal court documents.
Jameson was targeting Pier 39 for the attack on Dec. 25, according to a criminal complaint. He was arrested on Dec. 22 and charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.