A Wisconsin sex offender has been accused of trying to join ISIS. The Justice Department says 34-year-old Joshua Ray Van Haften spent over a year in Egypt touring the country’s military sites and later traveled to Turkey to find “brothers” who would funnel him into Iraq or Syria. Agents allege that he frequently spoke to his roommates about jihad and once lectured an 11-year-old boy about the coming World War III.
Federal agents arrested Van Haften on April 8 at Chicago’s O’Hare airport after he arrived “in custody” on a flight from Turkey. “We hope this arrest will serve as a deterrent for others who may be terrorist sympathizers here in Wisconsin, across the nation or abroad,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert J. Shields Jr. “They will be held accountable for support of terrorism against our citizens and our international partners.”
Here’s what you need to know about this twisted man and his alleged quest for jihad:
1. He Was Sentenced to 7 Years in Prison for Sexually Assaulting a Minor in 2000
According to online records, Van Haften was convicted of the 2nd Degree sexual assault of a child in 2000 in Rock County, Wisconsin. The incident happened in May 2000. He was sentenced to seven years in prison in the case. The victim was a female. It’s unclear how much of the seven years he served but in 2006, he graduated from Blackhawk Technical College in Beloit with a qualification in Fire Science, a course often taken by firefighters.
2. In 1998, He Bashed in the Ear of a Love Rival
The Beloit Daily News reported in 1998 that Van Haften was arrested in Beloit, Wisconsin, (above) when he was 17 after pointing a gun at a man who was dating the suspect’s ex-girlfriend. According to the paper, Van Haften hit the man in the ear with the firearm, disfiguring him. He was charged with substantial battery in the case.
3. He Was Previously Deported From Egypt for Being a Sex Offender
According to the Justice Department, Van Haften was arrested at O’Hare Airport after he returned to the U.S. from Turkey. The department said in a press release that the suspect had left the U.S. on August 26, 2014, to travel to Istanbul where he attempted to join ISIS. The complaint against Van Haften states that in July 2014, he traveled to Egypt where he got into an argument with a woman because the suspect had been taking pictures of a military facility. She reported him to local police. The cops there went to the U.S. Embassy to reports Van Haften, upon learning of his status as a sex offender, he was deported back to Wisconsin. He had been in North Africa from October 2012-January 2014.
On August 29, 2014, a woman in Madison, Wisconsin, went to police to complain that Van Haften had harassed her 11-year-old son at the capitol building in the city. She says the suspect talked to her son about World War III and going to Syria to fight. When cops eventually went to interview Van Haften about the incident, his former roommate said the he had left the country “because [Van Haften] didn’t like living in the United States.” A friend of Van Haften’s told investigators that he heard from the suspect sporadically via text message including one from Turkey that read “I figured I would meet people b/c of my sheer knowledge about things & it’d be all good, brothers would help me, give me money, facilitate in getting me to Iraq to help take over Baghdad.”
4. He Could Face 15 Years in Prison
The criminal complaint against Van Haften indicates that he’s a native of Madison, Wisconsin. Assistant Attorney General John Carlin said in the press release about Van Haften “Van Haften traveled overseas for the alleged purpose of joining and attempting to provide material support to ISIL. Stemming the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria and holding accountable those who attempt to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations remains a top priority for the National Security Division.” If convicted on charges of trying to provide material support for a terrorist organization, Van Haften could be facing 15 years in prison. He appeared in federal court on April 9.
On his now deleted Facebook page, Van Raften wrote in September 2014 “It’s calling, I can smell it’s perfume! Allah!!!” Also posted was a video about Anwar Al Awlaki. He also posted a video of himself walking down a road while telling the camera that it would be last time anyone heard from him.
You can read the full complaint above.
5. Van Haften Is Just the Latest Potential U.S. ISIS Recruit
This comes a week after two New York women, Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui, were accused of trying to set off a bomb in support of the Islamic State. According to a federal criminal complaint, Velentzas and Siddiqui thought they were dealing with a fellow ISIS supporter but were actually talking to a FBI agent. The documents in that case say that the two expressed ideas about planting a bomb in New York City’s Herald Square, but it’s not clear how far that plan ever got. According to the feds, the public were never in danger.