RALEIGH, N.C. — Israel denied entry two years ago to members of a North Carolina family that includes three men accused of plotting to execute terror attacks in foreign countries, an official said Wednesday.
Daniel Boyd, 39, was arrested Monday with six others, including two sons. Authorities claim Boyd was the ringleader of a group that was gearing up for a "violent jihad," though prosecutors haven't detailed any specific targets or timeframe. If convicted, the men could face life in prison. An eighth suspect is believed to be in Pakistan.
Boyd's wife, Sabrina, told a Raleigh newspaper that he and one of their sons flew to Israel in 2007 to visit Muslim holy sites but were denied entry and detained for two days. That followed a trip Daniel Boyd made with another son, who is not charged, to Israel a year earlier. She denied any malevolent motive for their visits.
The U.S. indictment said Boyd and two sons – Zakariya, 20, and Dylan, 22 – traveled to Israel in July 2007 to meet with two of the other defendants but returned home "having failed in their attempt at violent jihad."
An Israeli security official confirmed that members of the Boyd family were denied entry in 2007. He declined to say why they were stopped or provide further details. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not officially made public.
Israeli police and the Interior Ministry, the office in charge of immigration, would not comment.
Sabrina Boyd, 41, urged the public not to rush to judgment.
"We have the right to justice, and we believe that justice will prevail," she said in a statement. "We are decent people who care about other human beings."
On Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge William A. Webb delayed the detention hearing for the seven suspects. They are now scheduled to appear in court Tuesday morning.
In an interview with the News & Observer of Raleigh, Boyd said her husband and sons' trips abroad were pilgrimages.
"The point of a pilgrimage is to see the Al-Aksa mosque, the Dome of the Rock, to hear the call to prayer and to make a prayer," she said.
Prosecutors said Boyd received terrorist training years ago in Pakistan and brought the teachings back to North Carolina, recruiting followers willing to die as martyrs waging jihad – the Arabic word for holy war.
Frustrated by Raleigh-area mosques that he saw as too moderate, Boyd started breaking away this year to hold prayers in his home, prosecutors said. In the last two months, he took two group members to private property in north-central North Carolina to practice military tactics and use weapons.
"It's clear from the indictment that the overt acts in the conspiracy were escalating," U.S. Attorney George E.B. Holding said.
Boyd's wife told the newspaper she knew nothing about the training site cited by prosecutors, and she said the family had firearms because they enjoyed hunting and shooting.
Boyd's neighbors also defended the drywall contractor.
"If he's a terrorist, he's the nicest terrorist I ever met in my life. I don't think he is," said Charles Casale, 46, a neighbor in Willow Spring.
Jeremy Kuhn, 20, said the family seemed closer and more loving than any of the other nearby households.
"If it turns out they were terrorists, I will be the most shocked person in the world," he said.
The other four men arrested range in age from 21 to 33. Only one is not a U.S. citizen, but he is a legal resident.
An attorney who met with one of the defendants, Ziyad Yaghi, 21, said Yaghi was disappointed.
"Our concern is that people are rushing to a judgment and there's no evidence that anyone's been shown," attorney Robert Nunley said.
A Raleigh neighbor of another defendant, Hysen Sherifi, said he noticed in the past couple years that Sherifi had begun wearing a long flowing white robe and skullcap on Fridays.
"I did see him in Muslim garb on Fridays on occasion. His family dressed very secularly. I don't know anything about his behavior other than his clothes," neighbor Peter Adler said.
He said he was "nodding acquaintances" with the family and they were "always very friendly," including Hysen.
Public defenders assigned to Boyd did not return messages seeking comment, and there were no attorneys for the other men listed in court records. They are expected to appear in court Thursday for a detention hearing, facing charges of providing material support to terrorism; conspiracy to murder, kidnap, maim and injure persons abroad, and firearms counts.
Authorities believe the eighth suspect is in Pakistan, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity. A second law enforcement official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the suspect was Jude Kenan Mohammad, 20. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the investigation.
Authorities believe Boyd's roots in terrorism run deep. When he was in Pakistan and Afghanistan from 1989 through 1992, he had military-style training in terrorist camps and fought the Soviets, who were ending their occupation of Afghanistan, according to the indictment.
Associated Press writers Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, Matti Friedman in Jerusalem, Devlin Barrett in Washington; Adam Goldman in New York and Alysia Patterson in Willow Spring contributed to this report.