A college professor who worked with a Prince William County teenager arrested for allegedly helping another man travel to Syria to fight with ISIS is defending his former student and does not believe he is involved with terrorism.
FOX 5 is not identifying the suspect because he is 17 years old, but his professor said the teenager is very smart and was enrolled in an advanced STEM program. That is how the professor came to work with this student.
"My own opinion is that the most he can be accused of is probably being gullible and was taken advantage of," said Dr. Bruce Averill, an adjunct chemistry professor at George Mason University. "I doubt very much if he knew what this person's real intentions were."
Dr. Averill feels he knew the teenager well and he is not your typical chemistry professor.
"I spent five years at the State Department and four of those were in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism," he told us.
He never noticed any signs suggesting his student had links to ISIS or other radical groups.
"His lab partner was an Iranian female student and if someone is on the pathway to radicalization in the Sunni Muslim world, I don't see how they are going to be happy and spontaneous and work willingly with someone who is a Shiite and is female," said Averill. "I did not get the impression at all that this guy was covering up and that there was anything that was going on behind the scenes."
But the professor and student lost touch in November 2014 after the school semester ended. Dr. Averill said it is possible the teenager became radicalized after that, but he doesn't believe it's probable.
He even reached out to the teenager's mother.
"I reached out to her and said I didn't believe this for a moment," he said.
Then he spoke with the defense team who had many questions for him about the student.
"The FBI is claiming that a fair amount of the evidence against him is classified, so his attorney either previously had a security clearance or had to get one," said Averill.
He also told us the feds are still trying to charge the teenager as an adult in this case, but the defense team is working to stop that from happening. They will concentrate on fighting the charges altogether -- charges which the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office has released little to no information about.