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Houston-area man with suspected terror ties deemed flight risk

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HOUSTON – A Houston-area man facing terrorism-related charges was deemed a flight risk in court Friday and will remain in jail until a detention hearing.

Government officials identified the man as Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan.

In court Friday, Al Hardan asked for a public defender to represent him. The defendant said he makes about $1,800 a month and his wife doesn't work. Al Hardan, who attended school in Jordan until 11th grade, said his English reading and writing skills are limited.

According to government officials, the detention hearing is scheduled for Jan. 13.

Family members said they don't believe the accusations against Al Hardan.

“I come to America. I love America. My husband loves America, too,” said his wife, Haneen Al Kokiss.

Al Kokiss and her husband have a 10-month-old son and would've celebrated their second wedding anniversary next month.

Instead, Al Hardan is in federal custody, prosecutors calling him an ISIS collaborator.

“He not do anything bad. When he come to America, he not do anything bad,” said Al Kokiss.

Al Hardan appeared in federal court Friday accused of lying to investigators, lying on a citizen application and trying to go to Syria to help ISIS.

To his family though, the 24-year-old is a family man, living in Houston since 2009.

“You see my son. He need dad. He can't see dad in the jail,” said Al Kokiss.

His family said Al Hardan also worked as a limo driver. A man named Haji said the suspect previously worked for his limo company In 2014.

“If I knew at that time, I'd arrest him in my car and call the FBI,” said Haji.

Haji said drivers used his limos for calls through Uber, but Al Hardan didn't last long.

“I give it to him, my Surburban. He was working. Then the guy wasn't doing his job because he always had issues and I didn't like it for my job,” said Haji.

During an interview Friday night, family members became emotional thinking about Al Hardan facing decades in prison and deportation, if convicted.

“I can't see my husband in a jail because he not do anything bad. OK, and my husband's so nice, everybody loves my husband,” said Al Kokiss.

The suspect's older brother, who talked to KPRC 2 exclusively on Friday, maintained Al Hardan's innocence.

"I am sure my brother does not work with ISIS. ISIS is very bad. My family does not like ISIS," Saeed Al Hardan said.

The elder Al Hardan claimed that he briefly spoke with his brother on Friday afternoon.

"He said the newspapers have it wrong, they have it wrong," Saeed Al Hardan said.

Channel 2 Investigates obtained the city of Houston limousine driver's permit that Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan obtained in 2014. It lists him as a "legal resident."

His employer at the time of the application said he fired Al Hardan after just two weeks because he was lazy.

Saeed Al Hardan said Friday that 12 Al Hardan family members live in Houston.

A Harris County marriage license obtained by Channel 2 Investigates shows that the couple was married in February 2014.

"He's good. He's doing good. But in the jail now. He's sitting in the jail. But he's doing good," his wife told KPRC 2 over the phone.

At the time they lived in a modest apartment complex near a southwest Houston mosque. A few residents vaguely remembered them.

"So many people come and go around here," a former next-door neighbor said.

Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan most recently lived in a more modern, if not upscale, apartment complex on Meadowglen Street.

The elder Al Hardan said the family was being evicted on Friday.

"(I) have no information. Nobody told me what happens with my brother. I'm just waiting like you. I'm just waiting to see what happens," Saeed Al Hardan told KPRC 2. "I need help, my family. We don't have anything, please."

Another man was arrested Friday morning in Sacramento, California, in connection with the Houston case, according to a spokeswoman for the United States Attorney's Office there.

Other arrests were made in Milwaukee in a separate but connected case, Channel 2 has learned.

The Houston arrest is part of a federal terrorism-related investigation. Al Hardan is expected to face three federal charges, including providing support to terrorists.

A spokeswoman for the United States Attorney's Office in Houston said there is no threat to the public.

KPRC reported Thursday evening that the Texas suspect has lived in Houston for several years and was in contact with people in Milwaukee and Sacramento. The case involved plotting to get people currently in the United States moved overseas, specifically the Middle East.

“The person arrested in Sacramento was picked up this morning,” spokeswoman Lauren Horwood, of the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California, told Channel 2 Investigates. She was not sure when the person would appear in federal court.

In Houston, the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to give details about the Houston arrest.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement Thursday afternoon that read, in part: "I applaud the FBI for today's arrest of this dangerous subject."