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A former University of Houston student pleads guilty to aiding the Islamic State AP Photo/Bilal Fawzi, File
FILE - In this Friday, April 26, 2013 file photo, masked Sunni protesters wave Islamist flags while others chant slogans at an anti-government rally in Fallujah, Iraq, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad. “We can’t stop this thing, but we can limit it,” a former Islamic State group commander told the Associated Press of the Sunni militant group’s ambition to create a self-styled caliphate. “Daesh has nothing to lose,” he added, using the group’s Arabic acronym. ”They like it when (they are) hot in the news.” The former commander was interviewed at an Iraqi prison where he is now held and works as an informant. (AP Photo/Bilal Fawzi, File)

A former University of Houston student entered a guilty plea on charges that he provided material support to the group known as the Islamic State (IS).

Asher Abid Khan, 23, entered the guilty plea as part of a plea bargain with federal prosecutors. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for March. He could be sentenced to up to 15 years in federal prison.

According to court documents, Khan was under investigation by federal agents since 2014. He and a friend, Sixto Garcia, planned to travel to Turkey, where they would sneak into Syria and join Islamic State fighters. Garcia joined the group earlier in the year and was killed in the fighting in Syria.

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When Khan arrived in Turkey, he reportedly received a phone call saying his mother was in the hospital in Houston. The news prompted Khan to return home, where he still reportedly contacted groups affiliated with IS and expressed his desire to avenge “his brothers and sisters (who) are being raped, tortured and killed.”

Prosecutors allege Khan contacted IS leaders through social media postings and expressed his desire to join their fight. The criminal affidavit sworn out against Khan alleges he posted about his feelings that “he didn’t like living in the west anymore … and wanted to help his brothers and sisters to seek his maker’s mercy.”

“We aggressively investigate and prosecute persons who provide material support to terrorist organizations,” Abe Martinez, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas, told Houston Public Media.

As part of the plea bargain, federal prosecutors will drop five other charges against Khan, including three conspiracy charges. Prosecutors also agreed not to oppose any leniency the judge may administer in the sentencing, depending on Khan’s level of cooperation in other ongoing investigations.

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