“This case shows you how much the world of counterterrorism is changing,” terror analyst Phillip Mudd told CBS This Morning earlier today. An Ohio man faces federal charges of terrorism in court today after he traveled to Syria to train with al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra to fight on their front lines. Instead, Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud got sent back to the US to conduct terror attacks here against either military or police targets. The feds caught up with him as Mohamud attempted to recruit accomplices:

The Justice Department says Mohamud, 23, trained with Islamic militants in Syria and was instructed to return to America and commit acts of terrorism, something former FBI agent and “Headgame” author Phillip Mudd said made him more of a threat than the typical homegrown terrorist, reports CBS News correspondent David Martin. …

The indictment alleges Mohamud traveled to Syria one year ago — flying to Turkey and then crossing the border to join his brother who was already fighting for the radical Islamic group al-Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

There he received training in weapons, explosives, breaking and entering and hand-to-hand combat, but before he could get to the front lines, Mohamud was recruited by a cleric to return to the U.S. to carry out an attack.

Mohamud had come to the US as a refugee from Somalia, and later became a naturalized citizen. It’s not clear from the report whether the same is true for his brother, who did get sent to the front in Syria before Mohamud’s arrival. What is clear is that it’s not just ISIS that sees US citizens and resident aliens joining their ranks as valuable assets on another battlefield entirely, and it’s probably true for those coming from other Western nations as well.  This isn’t the homegrown terrorist threat as we’ve commonly known it, but a deployment of sleeper agents instead by this AQ affiliate.

The New York Times makes a puzzling claim in its report:

A cleric in Syria told Mr. Mohamud when his training was complete that he should not join the fighting there but go home and “carry out an act of terrorism,” the federal indictment said. The indictment did not clarify whether the cleric was affiliated with the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL; the Nusra Front; or another terrorist group in Syria.

“Mohamud talked about doing something big in the United States,” the indictment said. “He wanted to go to a military base in Texas and kill three or four American soldiers execution style.”

Despite the alleged statements about his desire to carry out an attack, the indictment gives no indication that Mr. Mohamud did more than talk about it. At least for now, he has been charged with offering material support to a designated terrorist group, the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, but not with plotting a specific attack.

Well, he actually did do “more than talk about it,” at least according to the indictment. He traveled to Syria to train with terrorists, the indictment alleges, and then returned to the US to conduct terror attacks. Those are positive actions showing intent. The “talking” came when Mohamud attempted to recruit people into the plot, but that’s a long way away from just talk.

This attitude is strangely common in the media with indictments that precede actual attacks, as if the very fact that the government caught someone before an attack somehow makes it easier to dismiss the idea that any real threat existed in the first place. We’ve seen that time after time (the New York Times is hardly alone in this) with emphasis on supposedly “amateurish” attempts to conduct terrorist attacks. It doesn’t actually take that much professionalism to pull off attacks on soft targets, and Mohamud went all the way to Syria to train for his mission in the US. That makes him a very serious threat, and kudos to CBS News and Phillip Mudd for making that point clear.

For a reminder of Jabhat al-Nusrs and their reach, this video explains that they just took over Idlib from the control of Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian dictator accuses Turkey, our NATO ally, of providing assistance to the Islamist coalition led by Nusra in order to seize the provincial capital. Turkey finally listed Nusra as a terrorist group a year ago, under considerable pressure from the West, but it’s not clear just how much daylight exists between Nusra and Turkey’s new partners in the region:

Thereafter, Ankara and its closest ally, Qatar, put pressure on Ahrar al-Sham to publicly distance itself from Nusra. These efforts resulted in the August 2014 announcement that 18 rebel factions, including Ahrar al-Sham, had joined forces, and agreed to an overarching political framework that did not include any reference to an “Islamic State” as the ideal means of governance.

These efforts preceded Qatari and Turkish-led efforts to convince Nusra’s leader in Syria, Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, to renounce ties with al-Qaeda central. The Turkish approach is based on a simple assumption: Nusra is a “Syrian group” fighting against the regime for the future of all Syrians. Thus, if sufficiently supported, the group could be co-opted and marshalled to help implement Ankara’s overarching goal of overthrowing Bashar al-Assad, all while convincing the group to sever its ties with al-Qaeda central.

Turkish policy has run afoul of the US, which views Nusra’s cooperation with the Syrian rebels with concern, and has even targeted the group during the current air-war. Turkey has continued to try and unite the rebel groups in northern Syria. This process is ongoing, but neither Turkey nor Qatar has been able to convince the Nusra leadership to sever its ties with al-Qaeda central.

Undeterred, the Turkish-supported Ahrar al-Sham recently merged with other rebel groups and joined with Jabhat al-Nusra during the assault on Idlib city. Fighting under the banner of Jaysh al-Fateh, the coalition of rebel groups forced Assad’s forces from the city. Ankara welcomed the news of Assad’s defeat.

Maybe Turkey should be reminded that terror groups sending Americans back as sleeper agents are our enemies — and they should choose their friends more carefully.