In late October 2014, the FBI received an unusual email from a young man named Mohimanul Alam Bhuiya.
Bhuiya, then 25, had joined the Islamic State. Now the longtime Brooklyn resident was desperate and looking for a way out. He wanted the FBI to rescue him.
“I am an American who’s trying to get back home from Syria,” he wrote in his email, according to federal court documents unsealed last month. “I just want to get back home. All I want is this extraction, complete exoneration thereafter, and have everything back to normal with me and my family.”
He added: “I am fed up with this evil.”
The FBI was still verifying his identity when Bhuiya managed to escape about a week later. He returned to the United States, where he was promptly arrested and charged with providing material support and receiving military training from the Islamic State.
In a closed courtroom in Brooklyn, he pleaded guilty to both counts on Nov. 26, 2014, according to the court filings. He faces up to 25 years in prison.
Bhuiya was not your average wayward Islamic State recruit. Unlike many of the people the Justice Department has charged in connection with the terrorist group, Bhuiya appeared to have a bright future. He attended Columbia University before he fell under the sway of the Islamic State.
According to a Columbia University spokesman, Bhuiya attended the School of General Studies. He was enrolled for one semester from January to May 2013 and did not earn a degree.
He implored Islamic State commanders not to “send me off to the front lines because I can be useful in other ways,” according to the NBC interview. “It seemed to me that it would, you know, save my skin.”
Bhuiya said he quickly became disillusioned and described the Islamic State as “dystopia.”
“You could see madness in their eyes,” he recalled. Bhuiya decided to flee. In the email to the FBI, he said he did not have a passport because the Islamic State had taken it. He asked if someone could pick him up at the border.