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Competency of man accused of supporting terrorism questioned

BUFFALO — The lawyer representing a New York man accused of making plans to join the Islamic State group in Syria said Monday he is concerned about the man’s mental competency and received a federal judge’s permission for an evaluation.

Attorney Jeremy Schwartz made the request as Arafat Nagi, 44, pleaded not guilty to a two-count indictment charging him with attempting to provide material support, resources and personnel — himself — to a terrorist organization.

The United States-born Nagi was planning his third trip to Turkey, with plans to continue to Syria to join the fighters, at the time of his arrest last month, federal prosecutors said. Investigators learned of Nagi’s activities after being tipped off by residents alarmed by his jihadi beliefs, which he espoused in person and on social media, according to a criminal complaint.

Schwartz, asked after the hearing about his request for a competency hearing, said: “There are certain communications that I have had that gave me those concerns, but I can’t specifically talk about the details.”

During the hearing, assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Lynch said the government was “not aware of any issues” but did not oppose the request.

Nagi’s brother and adult son were in court but declined to comment afterward.

Between 2012 and the time of his arrest, Nagi, an unemployed and divorced father of two, bought combat gear, including a machete, night goggles and body armor, and pledged allegiance online to the Islamic State group, prosecutors said. He also posted photos of beheadings and severed heads in 2014 before flying to Turkey, where he stayed for 10 days before continuing on to Yemen for a month, the criminal complaint said.

He was planning another trip this month, authorities said.

“The anticipated August 2015 trip was, I think, the last decisive action by this defendant and once he made that decision, we decided it was appropriate to effectuate an arrest,” Lynch told reporters after the hearing.

He said the pre-trial discovery phase of the case would be complicated because it will likely involve classified information. The government also plans to pursue 14 warrants to search electronic devices seized from Nagi’s home during a July 29 search, he said.

Nagi has been held without bail since his arrest.