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Mesquite man detained; judge calls him flight risk, safety threat

A federal judge has detained Bilal Abood, saying he is a possible flight risk and safety threat to the public.
A tweet sent by Bilal Abood, discovered during a search of his computer by FBI agents.

DALLAS – A federal judge has detained Bilal Abood, saying he is a possible flight risk and safety threat to the public.

Abood was in federal court on Friday morning for a probable cause hearing.

The heart of the criminal case against Abood, 37, is a tweet.

The Iraqi native who now lives in Mesquite said he does not support the terrorist group ISIS.

But the FBI alleges that is not what he posted to Twitter.

"You could go to prison for a tweet," said Richard Roper, the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas.

In a seven page criminal complaint that Roper reviewed for News 8, the FBI charged Abood with lying to agents.

But when Abood returned, the FBI questioned him again and seized his computer. The federal complaint said agents discovered that Abood tweeted: "I pledge obedience to the Caliphate Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi."

That's the leader of ISIS – the man that agents said Abood denied to them that he supported.

"That's the heart of their case - that false statement," Roper continued.

In federal court Friday, the government said Abood poses a threat just sitting at home on his computer. Prosecutors showed pictures, a song and a video of what they call pro-ISIS propaganda -- all found on Abood's computer.

They say he shared the video with others, showing an ability to recruit ISIS followers.

Abood's attorney argued that anyone has access to that material if they know where to look on the Internet.

FBI Special Agent John Brown took the stand and said Abood told a witness, "The United States is the enemy of God."

Brown also confirmed Abood served as a translator for the U.S. Army in Iraq, and was able to get dual citizenship and immigrate to the U.S. afterward.

He has lived in Mesquite since 2009.

Abood has had basic U.S. Army training, and has served as a private security guard, which could help Abood carry out an attack in the U.S., said Brown.

Abood was on the TSA's "No-Fly List" in 2013 when federal agents stopped him at DFW International Airport. He admitted he wanted to fly to Syria to fight against President Bashar Assad's brutal regime.

Agents say he later flew there by way of Mexico. When he returned, the FBI questioned him and seized his computer.

Prosecutors said Abood is a flight risk because he has no real ties to the area. He has not held a job for two years, and his family is in Iraq. He lives with his girlfriend at her Mesquite home; the two met online several years ago.

"They probably wanted to pick him up, get him off the streets. Get him into custody before something happens," said former assistant U.S. attorney Jon Helms. "Probably, what they're really looking at is if they provided material support to terrorists."

There remains no evidence to suggest the Mesquite man had anything to do with terrorism.

"I think he was concerned about how the FBI was treating him in his words. I think he felt like they were trying to get him to do things and say things he wasn't comfortable with," said David Schechter, a senior reporter at WFAA.

Abood reached out to Schechter last year wanting to share his story. But after numerous conversations, he backed out of an interview.

"In the end I think he was fearful that if he said something it would make things worse for him," added Schechter.

"I think it would be a reasonable guess to say that in light of what happened in Garland, they didn't want to wait around and they wanted to move quickly, especially with someone pledging allegiance to ISIS in this area," Helms said.

Why he so quickly lost trust in the U.S. government remains a mystery.

Lying to the FBI is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In his initial appearance Thursday afternoon, Abood appeared nervous and worried and asked the judge for a Muslim attorney because he said he was afraid of the FBI.