GREENSBORO, N.C. — A former North Carolina police officer appeared in court on Thursday on weapons charges, just weeks after he was nabbed by the FBI while returning home from an attempt to join the Muslim terrorist group ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
“I would not classify myself as a radical, but by western definition I would be classified as a radical,” Donald Ray Morgan, 44, told NBC News. “I just consider myself to be a practicing Muslim.”
Morgan, a former Roman Catholic, converted to Islam in 2008. He had originally sought to join the U.S. military as a youth, but after failing to pass the National Guard boot camp, he found a career in law enforcement as he served as deputy at the Rowan County Sheriff’s office. He also worked as a courtroom bailiff in the area.
However, when he was fired a year and a half later, Morgan descended into a life of crime. He spent two years behind bars for firing a gun in a crowded bar, and converted to Islam a year after he and his wife divorced.
In 2012, some of Morgan’s friends and acquaintances noticed that his Tweets on Twitter were become more and more radical, posting under the alias Abu Omar al Amreeki and referring to himself as mujahid.
“Mujahid pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Islamic State commanding good and forbidding evil,” he wrote.
“To brothers in Iraq, be patient. Many of us trying to come,” he stated in another Tweet. “Allah, you brought me here and I need to take rest of my journey to join the most beautiful brothers on earth. … Give me martyrdom, wherever I may be.”
Morgan spent the past eight months in Lebanon as he sought entry into Syria to join ISIS.
“I purchased the ticket with the intent of entering to Syria, either joining up with medical and food aid convoys or directly with Islamic State,” he said. “My reason for the support of ISIS is because they’ve proven time and time again to put Islamic law as the priority and the establishment of an Islamic state as the goal.”
Morgan knew that if he returned to the United States, he might face charges of “supporting terrorist organizations,” but boarded a flight anyway in August. He was taken into custody by the FBI at JFK airport in New York on a warrant for federal weapons charges.
This Thursday, Morgan plead not guilty and is expected to return to court next month. He is not facing any charges relating to his support of ISIS at this time.
The Pentagon outlined this week that it is believed that at least a dozen Americans are currently fighting with ISIS in Syria, although Col. Steve Warren noted, “We believe that there are approximately 100 American passport holders operating inside of Syria, [and] we don’t know specifically who they are aligning themselves with.”