AUGUSTA - A 37-year-old Georgia salesman pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges that he supported terrorists, saying he bought a one-way ticket overseas to join the Islamic State group.
Leon Nathan Davis, of Augusta, told a U.S. District court judge he planned last fall to fly to Istanbul, Turkey, where he said he "was to be smuggled into Syria and at that point in time join ISIS."
A stocky, pale man with a shaved head, Davis answered with a pronounced Southern accent when the judge asked if he understood that the U.S. considers the Islamic State to be a terrorist organization: "Yes, sir, I did."
Davis is among several dozen people charged in the last year with trying to fight alongside the Islamic State and other militants or with lending them material support. Federal charges against him were filed Wednesday just before his plea hearing.
Judge J. Randall Hall, who will sentence Davis at a later date, did not ask about his motivations for seeking to join Islamic militants. Prosecutors and Davis' defense attorney declined to discuss the case further after his plea hearing.
Charging documents filed with the court say Davis is also known by the names Abdul Wakil Khalil and Abu Hurairah Al Amreekee. Georgia Department of Corrections records show he was imprisoned in October 2005 after being sentenced to 10 years for cocaine trafficking. He was released in September 2008 but returned to prison for more than a year starting in February 2012.
Davis told the judge that he worked as a salesman for a company selling mail-order medical supplements before his most recent arrest. He also said he's been married since 2013 and has a stepdaughter.
Federal authorities began watching Davis more than a year ago after he tried to contact Islamic State members through social media, FBI agent Gutis Zunde testified. He said Davis booked a flight to Turkey online last fall and traveled to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to catch his plane Oct. 24. Authorities arrested Davis at the Delta Air Lines check-in counter.
Zunde said Davis later told investigators he expected to teach English to other Islamic State members once he reached Syria.
"He said he wasn't sure if he would be a fighter or possibly a recruiter for them," Zunde said.
Davis faces up to 15 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 when he's sentenced on the charge of attempting to provide material support to terrorists. Prosecutors since February held him on a charge of illegal firearms possession by a convicted felon, saying Davis owned six rifles, four handguns and two shotguns. The judge said prosecutors plan to drop that charge.