Prior to the summer of 2016, no one had ever been arrested or prosecuted under Arizona's anti-terrorism laws. Since then, cases have been brought against four alleged terrorists, in three unrelated terror plots.
Each alleged terrorist was said to have ties to, or sympathies with, the Islamic State, commonly referred to as ISIS. The cases have been prosecuted by Arizona's Republican Attorney General, Mark Brnovich, based on investigations conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Mia Garcia, a spokeswoman for Brnovich's office, said Arizona is in heightened danger, with "more threat, more plots, more planning" underway in the states "neighborhoods and communities."
Yet in each of the Arizona terror cases, arrests and indictments came in the absence of any actual terrorist attack Thanks to lower prosecution standards under Arizona law, the cases were based solely on words that had allegedly been spoken, written, or committed to Internet search engines.
Civil liberties advocates warn these prosecutions may mark the beginning of a new and dangerous trend.
"What we are seeing in Arizona does seem to be a new issue," said Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Unions National Security Project. "And it does raise the question of whether the FBI is using the lower threshold for the prosecution of terrorism-related crimes in Arizona as a way to get around what is already quite a low threshold of investigation and prosecution at the federal level."
Mahin Khan of Tucson was arrested by the FBI on the afternoon of July 1, 2016, at the outset of a long Fourth of July weekend. Khan, who had just turned eighteen, was said to be an "ISIS supporter" and a "violent jihadist," plotting attacks against several targets in Arizona and California.
Last October, Khan accepted a plea agreement, pleading guilty to a terrorism conspiracy charge and related subordinate offenses. In November, he was sentenced to eight years in prison, to be followed by a lifetime of probation.
Mahin's mother, Shazia Khan, said in an interview that her son has behavioral and intellectual difficulties. At the time of his arrest, a former tutor told local media that the boy had the mental capacity of a six-year-old and was not capable of the plot he was charged with. "He doesn't have the ability of learning anything," said the tutor, Auguste El-Kareh.
Mahin's behavioral and intellectual impairments were so severe, said Shazia, that local schools would not accept him. Instead, Mahin stayed at home with his mother and took educational courses online.
According to court documents, Mahin had come to the attention of the FBI in 2013 "after the FBI received information that Khan expressed interest in performing acts of terrorism." According to Shazia, Mahin had written an email to one of his instructors, expressing frustration and anger over U.S. drone strikes in the Middle East.
Shazia said the FBI told her that Mahin needed to undergo a mental health evaluation; the family consented. FBI agents, she said, transported Mahin to a private mental health facility in Tucson, where Mahin was held for forty-five days--undergoing evaluations, counseling and medication.
After his release, Shazia said, FBI agents would visit the house "every month or every two months" and question Mahin about such things as...