AZ terror suspect, Mahin Khan, enters not guilty plea at Maricopa County Superior Court

Posted at 3:37 PM, Jul 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-12 21:25:27-04

An Arizona teen accused of terrorism pleaded not guilty at the Maricopa County Superior Court on Tuesday.

Court documents revealed that Mahin Khan, 18, said he supported the Islamic State group and asked a suspected militant for help making a pipe bomb and was plotting to blow up a local motor vehicle office.

A grand jury charged Khan with terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism and conspiracy to commit misconduct involving weapons.

Public appointed defense attorneys sought to block cameras from recording Khan’s initial appearance in court. His lawyer, Robert Ditsworth, said he worried about his client’s safety and that putting his image out there repeatedly endangered his family as well. Ditsworth said Khan could become a target for inmates at the jail.

Judge Sam Myers ruled in favor of allowing cameras in the courtroom.

The indictment revealed that Khan planned to bomb a Motor Vehicle Division office in Maricopa County, the state's most populous county, between April of 2015 and July 1, 2016. Mia Garcia, spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office, which is prosecuting the case, said she could not release more details about the plot.

Authorities said Khan had written emails to an alleged member of the Pakistan Taliban, seeking weapons and instructions for a homemade explosive. It's not clear whether Khan was corresponding with an actual member of the violent organization, also known as TTP, but a probable cause statement shows the Federal Bureau of Investigation examined the emails.

In the emails, Khan said he backed the Islamic State group and was looking to carry out an attack. The person on the other end of the emails responded that Khan would have to pay for two assault rifles and a pistol he requested, so Khan said he wanted instructions for a bomb instead, the heavily redacted document says.

Court records do not list an attorney who could speak on Khan's behalf. The Associated Press has made several unsuccessful attempts to reach his family in Tucson.

The FBI began investigating Khan after a citizen reported him for suspicious activity and were tracking him after he asked someone else on April 16 about targeting Mission Bay, California, and an Air Force recruitment center in Tucson, according to the probable cause statement. The identity of that person was redacted, but it was not the alleged Taliban member.

The statement was written before Khan's arrest, and the plot against the motor vehicle office came to light after authorities searched his home. He was indicted in that plot because it appeared he took steps to carry it out, as opposed to his discussions against the other targets, authorities said.

Khan described himself as an "American Jihadist" on Feb. 22 and sent a picture of himself, saying he needed guns to "take out marines and Jews."

Khan is being held without bond at this time. A hearing to discuss bond is set to take place on Tuesday, July 19, at 10:30 a.m.

The judge also said he would entertain motions by members of the media who had issues with the heavily redacted probably cause statement released last week.

Myers acknowledged a protective order filed by the State in this case. A spokeswoman for the attorney general's office said it was to protect a confidential informant.

Little information exists about Khan's past. Records show his family has lived in Tucson for several years and that his father has a medical license.

Khan attended a high school in the Catalina Foothills School District for a few days in August of 2013, district spokeswoman Julie Farbarik said. Khan had behavioral issues and his parents withdrew him to avoid disciplinary action, she said.

Former classmates who've known Khan since he was a little boy said they were not surprised to hear about the charges against him.

One man said he still remembers Khan from when he was 8 years old.

"I remember very vividly, he drew a picture of himself flying plane into a tall building, and he said this is what I want to do, destroy the empire state building in a plane," said Khan’s former classmate.

He said Khan also spoke of wanting to join the Iraqi military and killing Jews and Americans.

A spokeswoman for the Tucson Unified School District said the district was closed and she could not look up whether Khan had attended school there.