Wednesday, October 21, 2020

United States Seizes More Domain Names Used by Foreign Terrorist Organization

 The United States has seized “Aletejahtv.com” and “kataibhezbollah.com,” two websites that were unlawfully utilized by Kata’ib Hizballah, a Specially Designated National and a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

“Seizures like these are critical to preventing designated entities and terrorist organizations from using U.S. websites to recruit new members and promote their twisted world views,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.   “While this case is a reminder that terrorists don’t need to step foot in our country to further their aims, today’s actions show that the Department will do what it takes to stop them.”

“We will be steadfast in protecting our electronic infrastructure and commerce system from use by terrorist groups,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak of the Northern District of Georgia.  “This seizure shows that we will continue to leverage our national reach to stop these groups from using U.S.-based resources to further their terrorist agenda.”

“The internet is continuously updating with new threats to our nation’s safety, but we will continue to rise and meet this challenge,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “The success of this seizure should serve as a message to others that would threaten the safety of our communities: We will continue to fight terror groups and their propaganda no matter the domain.”

“The Bureau of Industry and Security’s Office of Export Enforcement will continue to aggressively disrupt Iranian backed terrorist organizations such as Kata’ib Hizballah from utilizing U.S. based online networks and services in violation of U.S. law,” said P. Lee Smith, Performing the Non-exclusive Functions and Duties of the Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement at the Department of Commerce.  “The Bureau of Industry and Security is committed to protecting our war fighters and Allied Forces from terrorist acts of violence inspired and directed via online networks.”

On July 2, 2009, the U.S. Secretary of Treasury designated Kata’ib Hizballah, an Iran-backed terrorist group active in Iraq, as a Specially Designated National for committing, directing, supporting, and posing a significant risk of committing acts of violence against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. On the same day, the U.S. Department of State designated Kata’ib Hizballah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization for committing or posing a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism.

On Aug. 31, 2020, pursuant to a seizure warrant in the District of Arizona, the United States seized “Aletejahtv.com” and “Aletejahtv.org.” “Aletejahtv.com” and “Aletejahtv.org,” acted as Kata’ib Hizballah’s media arm and published internet communications such as videos, articles, and photographs. These communications included numerous articles designed to further Kata’ib Hizballah’s agenda, particularly destabilizing Iraq and recruiting others to join their cause.  They also functioned as a live online television broadcast channel, “Al-etejah TV.” Portions of the communications expressly noted that they were published by Kata’ib Hizballah.

Within weeks, federal agents located the content from “Aletejahtv.com” and “Aletejahtv.org” on “Aletejahtv.com” and “kataibhezbollah.com,” including the Kata’ib Hizballah flag and the words “Islamic Resistance, Kataib Hizbollah.” The content even included false information about COVID-19 designed to damage perception of the United States in the minds of Iraqi citizens and to destabilize the region to the benefit of Iran.

Federal law prohibits designated entities like Kata’ib Hizballah from obtaining or utilizing goods or services, including website and domain services, in the United States without a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. “Aletejahtv.com” and “kataibhezbollah.com” are domain names that are owned and operated by a United States company based in Reston, Virginia. Kata’ib Hizballah did not obtain a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control prior to utilizing the domain names.

On Oct. 14, 2020, pursuant to a seizure warrant issued in the Eastern District of Virginia, the United States seized “Aletejahtv.com” and “kataibhezbollah.com.” Visitors to the site received the following message:

Notice of Seizure

This seizure was investigated by the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys from the Northern District of Georgia, Assistant U.S. Attorneys from the Eastern District of Virginia, and trial lawyers from the Department of Justice National Security Division prosecuted the seizure.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Al Qaeda-Trained Jihadist Who Recruited Other Inmates to Join ISIS Sentenced to 300 Months

 Mohammed Ibrahim Ahmed was in Federal Custody Serving a Sentence for Terrorism Violations at the Time of his Current Plot to Recruit Terrorists

A 46-year-old international terrorist convicted of additional terrorist activity that he committed while an inmate of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has been sentenced in the Eastern District of Texas, announced the Department of Justice.

Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed, an Ethiopian national born in Eretria, was found guilty by a jury in December 2019, of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization (ISIS) and making a false statement to the FBI.  Ahmed was sentenced to an additional 300  months in federal prison today by U.S. District Judge Marcia A. Crone.

“While in prison for a prior terrorism conviction, Ahmed continued to engage in terrorist activity by recruiting fellow inmates to join ISIS and training them in preparation for future attacks,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “As long as terrorists keep offending, the Department will continue to bring them to justice.  We have done so in this case.”

“This terrorist’s original prison sentence did not diminish his support of ISIS or its ugly ideology,” said U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Cox.  “Fortunately, his efforts to radicalize and train others to commit acts of violence against civilians were thwarted by the quick actions of our law enforcement partners.  Our office is committed to pursuing terrorists wherever they hide, including within our federal prison system.”

“As terrorists have grown more determined to inflict violence on populations and use any tool or method at their disposal to do so, law enforcement has become more agile in disrupting their plots,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Houston Division Perrye K. Turner.  “Despite serving a sentence for terrorism charges, Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed had unwavering intent to continue on his quest for terror, and used his access to incarcerated individuals to further his recruiting efforts for ISIS. Today's sentence not only demonstrates the persistence terrorists and terrorist organizations have but also, reinforces the persistence of FBI agents in the Beaumont Resident Agency to protect the homeland." 

According to information presented in court, in 2013 Ahmed was convicted in the Southern District of New York of conspiring to provide material support to and receive military-type training from a foreign terrorist organization.  Ahmed had attended an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in 1996 and was a member of the Brandbergen Mosque network, which financially and logistically supported other terrorist groups.  A federal judge in New York sentenced Ahmed to 111 months in federal prison and he was transferred to the Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) in Beaumont, Texas to serve his sentence. 

Ahmed continued his terrorist activities while serving his sentence at FCI-Beaumont.  He recruited at least five inmates to join ISIS and to conduct terrorist acts in the United States after their release from federal custody, telling them that he was aligned with ISIS and supported al Shabaab and al Qaeda.  From prison, he celebrated the Ariana Grande concert bombing and other acts of terror in the news, telling an inmate, “They kill kids, we gonna kill kids.”  Ahmed wanted the inmates he was recruiting to either travel abroad to join ISIS, or create “sleeper cells” within the United States to carry out attacks. 

Ahmed provided would-be recruits with a training manual on how to carry out violent jihad, including topics such as “how to carry out guerilla war,” “selection of human targets,” and “how to carry out assassinations.”  He even held physical training exercises with other inmates in the prison yard to get them in shape to carry out the acts of terror he was plotting.  Ahmed also discussed a plot with fellow inmates to bomb the Federal Detention Center in New York City as a revenge for his prosecution there.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Beaumont Resident Agency, out of the Houston Division, and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher T. Tortorice and Trial Attorneys Alicia Cook and Katie Sweeten of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher T. Rapp participated in the sentencing hearing.

Monday, October 19, 2020

TSA screens over 1M passengers on a single day for the first time since March

 WASHINGTON – The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened over 1 million passengers Sunday, representing the highest number of passengers screened at TSA checkpoints since March 17, 2020. In addition to screening one million passengers in a single day, TSA screened 6.1 million passengers at checkpoints nationwide during the week (Mon., Oct. 12 through Sun., Oct. 18). That weekly volume also represents the highest weekly volume for TSA since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“TSA has been diligent in our efforts to ensure checkpoints are clean, safe and healthy for frontline workers and airline passengers, implementing new protocols and deploying state-of-the-art technologies that improve security and reduce physical contact,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske.

Although passenger volumes remain well below pre-pandemic levels, the one million single-day passenger volume is a noteworthy development that follows significant TSA checkpoint modifications in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. TSA has been deploying acrylic barriers and technologies that reduce or eliminate physical contact between passengers and TSA officers.

New credential authentication devices are being installed at various airport checkpoints, enabling passengers to insert their ID directly into a card reader, eliminating the need for a TSA screening officer to touch the ID. Many checkpoints now also feature computed tomography (CT) scanners, allowing TSA officers to manipulate an image on screen to get a better view of a bag’s contents. This technology often enables officers to clear items without having to open a carry-on bag. The new CT scanner further reduces the need for a passenger to remove contents of their bag during the screening process. 

Beyond TSA’s aggressive technology improvements and checkpoint modifications, it also established an ongoing “Stay Healthy. Stay Secure.” campaign designed to prepare airline travelers for new procedures they can expect at TSA checkpoints. TSA also encourages travelers to follow CDC and other COVID-19 related health guidelines established by airports, airlines and local jurisdictions at departure and arrival locations.

For more information about the TSA response to COVID-19 and other adjustments made at security screening checkpoints, please visit tsa.gov/coronavirus

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Southern Colorado Man Pleads Guilty To Federal Hate Crime And Explosives Charges For Plotting To Blow Up Synagogue

 DENVER – United States Attorney Jason R. Dunn, in conjunction with the Justice Department announced that Richard Holzer, age 28, pleaded guilty today to federal hate crime and explosives charges for plotting to blow up the Temple Emanuel Synagogue in Pueblo, Colorado.

Holzer pleaded guilty to intentionally attempting to obstruct persons in the enjoyment of their free exercise of religious beliefs, through force and the attempted use of explosives and fire, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 247, and to attempting to maliciously damage and destroy, by means of fire and explosives, a building used in interstate commerce, in violation of Title 18 United States Code, Section 844(i).

In the plea agreement, Holzer admitted that he planned to destroy Temple Emanuel, a synagogue in Pueblo, Colorado, that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Holzer, who self-identifies as a Neo-Nazi and a white supremacist, used social media accounts to promote white supremacy ideology and acts of violence and visited Temple Emanuel to observe Jewish congregants.  After one such visit, Holzer told undercover FBI agents that he wanted to do something that would tell Jewish people in the community that they are not welcome in Pueblo, and they should leave or they will die.  Holzer sent an undercover FBI agent pictures of himself holding automatic weapons and said he was “getting ready for RAHOWA,” shorthand for a racial holy war.   

During a meeting with undercover agents to discuss his plans, Holzer repeatedly expressed his hatred of Jewish people and suggested using explosive devices to destroy the Synagogue.  Holzer told the undercover agents that he wanted to “get that place off the map.”  Holzer further admitted that he coordinated with the undercover agents to obtain explosives, including pipe bombs.

On the evening of November 1, 2019, Holzer met with undercover agents, who provided Holzer with inert explosive devices that had been fabricated by the FBI, including two pipe bombs and 14 sticks of dynamite.  Before taking custody of the explosives, Holzer removed a copy of “Mein Kampf” from his bag and told the undercover agents that “this is a move for our race.”  Holzer admitted that he planned to detonate the explosives several hours later, in the early hours of Saturday morning, November 2, 2019.  The actions Holzer admitted in the plea agreement meet the federal definition of domestic terrorism, as they involved criminal acts dangerous to human life that were intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.

“This is the most important work that we can do – protecting our communities by stopping an attack before it occurred,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn.  “The people of Pueblo and the State of Colorado are safer as a result of today’s guilty plea and the outstanding work of prosecutors, the FBI, and our other law enforcement partners.”

“The defendant attempted to bomb the Temple Emanuel Synagogue to drive people of Jewish faith out of his community,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “Violence motivated by religious intolerance strikes at the heart of a free society, and the Justice Department will continue to investigate and prosecute these violent acts of hate.”

“Today Richard Holzer pled guilty for plotting to harm members of a religious organization in Pueblo, Colorado,” said FBI Denver Special Agent Charge Michael Schneider. "We remain committed to working with our partners to protect Colorado's citizens from those who plan to commit acts of violence, including that which constitutes a hate crime or domestic terrorism, and hold those individuals accountable. We would like to thank the Southern Colorado Joint Terrorism Task Force, Pueblo Police Department, and the U.S. Attorney's Office for their dedication and perseverance in this investigation.”

Sentencing is set for January 20, 2021, before U.S. District Judge Raymond P. Moore.  Holzer faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the hate crime charge and 20 years for the explosives charge, a fine of up to $250,000, and a term of supervised release.   

Assistant United States Attorney Julia Martinez and Trial Attorney Michael J. Songer of the Civil Rights Division are prosecuting the case on behalf of the government. The FBI conducted the investigation with the assistance of the Pueblo Police Department and Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado.  Related court documents can be found on PACER.  The case number is 19-cr-488.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Weekly Update: DHS Response to COVID-19

 The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its component offices have stood ready to assist communities across the nation facing unforeseen challenges amid a pandemic environment.  


Admiral Karl Schultz, Commandant of the Coast Guard, stated, “The Coast Guard is working closely with all state and local first responders and federal partners in response to Hurricane Delta. This is the sixth major storm to impact the Gulf coast during this year’s historic hurricane season. As with previous storms, the Coast Guard had assets pre-staged throughout the region to be ready to immediately respond where needed. Amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, Coast Guard women and men across the country and around the world remain Semper Paratus.” 

Cyber Security and Infrastructure Agency (CISA)
Continuing to Secure the Election Process. On October 7th, CISA released the Election Infographic Products, a set of infographics products that identify changes in mail-in voting this year as a result of COVID voting policies. The series includes three infographics and two maps designed to combat disinformation by equipping election officials, stakeholders, and voters with information on the mail-in voting, post-election, and election results processes, and the security measures that were implemented to safeguard the 2020 election season and increase the resilience of the American electorate.  

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Providing Grants to States for Supplemental Lost Wages Payments. To ease the economic burden for those struggling with lost wages due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, President Trump authorized FEMA to expend up to $44 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund for lost wage payments. As of October 9th, Administrator Gaynor has approved 49 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands and the District of Columbia for FEMA grants under this unprecedented program. FEMA’s grant funding will allow the approved states to provide those unemployed due to COVID-19 $300 or 400 per week on top of their regular unemployment benefit. As of October 9th, FEMA has awarded more than $42.3 Billion in support of Lost Wages supplemental assistance. All approved grant applicants receive an initial obligation of three weeks of funding, with additional disbursements made on a weekly basis. 

Providing Full Federal Reimbursement for States’ National Guard Forces. On August 3rd, President Trump granted an extension for the use of the National Guard under Federal Title 32 orders to respond to COVID-19 until December 31, 2020. As of October 8th, 16,267 National Guard troops have activated in T-32 duty status and 432 troops have activated in State Active Duty status to help with testing and other response efforts. To date, President Trump has approved 49 National Guard requests for federal support for the use of National Guard personnel in a Title 32 duty status through December 31. For those states and territories that are approved under these criteria, FEMA executed a fully reimbursable mission assignment to the Department of Defense, including reimbursement for pay and allowances ofNational Guard personnel serving in a Title 32 duty status in fulfillment of the FEMA mission assignment. 

Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC)
Graduating the Next Generation of Law Enforcement. FLETC continues to successfully implement testing, identification, isolation and containment protocols in managing the COVID-19 virus.  As of October 9, nearly 3,700 officers and agents have successfully graduated and are now in the field performing work that is critical to protect the homeland since training was restarted on June 17. There are currently 2,159 students attending in-residence training at Glynco, Charleston, and Artesia training delivery points, with an additional 97 students attending training at the Cheltenham training delivery point. Their graduation in the coming months and the continual influx of new students ensures that our federal law enforcement partners receive the trained personnel they need to help keep our nation secure. In addition, more than 7,100 officers and agents from federal, state, local, and tribal have taken part in FLETC online training, including nearly 4,200 participants for the Integrated Use of Force series. 

Science and Technology (S&T) 
Driving Evidence-Based Policymaking. On October 7the DHS Science and Technology Directorate updated its Master Question List (MQL), and does so weekly, to compile available research on operationally-relevant questions to aid decision makers in the COVID-19 response. The MQL is a quick-reference guide covering what is known about the virus, what additional information is needed, and who may be working to address these fundamental questions. New entries include: 

Cross-reactivity from seasonal coronaviruses enhances the immune response toward the S2 unit of the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein. 

  • Nguyen-Contant, P.; Embong, A. K.; Kanagaiah, P.; Chaves, F. A.; Yang, H.; Branche, A. R.; Topham, D. J.; Sangster, M. Y., S Protein-Reactive IgG and Memory B Cell Production after Human SARS-CoV-2 Infection Includes Broad Reactivity to the S2 Subunit. mBio 2020,11 (5), e01991-20. https://mbio.asm.org/content/mbio/11/5/e01991-20.full.pdf 

India has approved a rapid CRISPR-based test paper capable of generating results with 96% sensitivity and 98% specificity within an hour of nasopharyngeal swab. 

Regular disinfection of hospital rooms (with benzalkonium wipes) can reduce the presence of SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces, though contamination is widespread without regular cleaning. 

  • Kim, U. J.; Lee, S. Y.; Lee, J. Y.; Lee, A.; Kim, S. E.; Choi, O.-J.; Lee, J. S.; Kee, S.-J.; Jang, H.-C., Air and Environmental Contamination Caused by COVID-19 Patients: a Multi-Center Study. J Korean Med Sci 2020,35 (37). https://doi.org/10.3346/jkms.2020.35.e332 

Methylene blue (in combination with visible light) is being investigated for decontamination of N95 respirators. 

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
Keeping Americans Safe While Ensuring Continuity of U.S. Travel and Commerce. Between Oct. 4th through Oct. 10th, TSA screened more than 5.7 million passengers, who have all reached their destinations safely. TSA officers are required to wear facial protection and gloves while on duty at the checkpoint. In support of air travel and all other modes of transportation, the agency continues to follow CDC guidance to protect Americans, its workers, and the nation’s transportation system. TSA continues to promote its “Stay Healthy. Stay Secure” campaign which outlines significant airport checkpoint modifications, including new technologies that reduce or eliminate physical contact, implemented to contain the spread of COVID-19, comply with CDC guidelines, and promote healthy and secure summer travel. 

Ready to Ensure Safety During the Summer Travel Period. TSA announced the implementation of new credential authentication technology (CAT) at Albany International Airport on Oct. 5 and at Billings International Airport on Oct. 8 that allows the TSA screening officer to verify the traveler’s identity with little to no physical contact with the airline traveler. On Oct 6, TSA announced new 3D checkpoint scanner technology at Long Island’s MacArthur Airport.  The 3-D imagery allows TSA officers to manipulate the image on screen to get a better view of a bag’s contents and often clear items without having to open a carry-on bag, thereby reducing physical contact. On Oct 7, TSA announced new acrylic barriers deployments throughout various checkpoint areas at Philadelphia International Airport to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.   

United States Coast Guard (USCG)
Monitoring Vessels that Pose a Risk to Public Health. As of October 8th, the USCG is tracking 61 cruise ships moored, at anchor, or underway in vicinity of a U.S. port, or with potential to arrive in a US port, with approximately 9,296 crewmembers. This includes an estimated 184 American Citizens crewmembers dispersed among 31 vessels. The Coast Guard is working with the CDC based on its extension of the No Sail Order for cruise ships, which permits the off-loading of crewmembers following submission of a plan to the CDC. 

Reservists. As of October 10th, the USCG has recalled and deployed 442 Reservists in support of COVID-19 operations. They are activated to serve in numerous types of roles, including work in IT support, medical clinics, PPE warehouses, command centers and other incident management roles, notably assisting federal partners such as HHS, and supporting state emergency operations centers on behalf of FEMA.  

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Keeping the Public Safe from COVID-19-related Fraud. ICE’s Operation Stolen Promise (OSP) targets fraudulent activity stemming from the pandemic. The initiative combines ICE’s Homeland Security Investigation’s (HSI) expertise in global trade investigations, financial fraud, and cyber investigations with robust private and public partnerships to disrupt and dismantle this criminal activity and strengthen global supply-chain security. As of October 7, as part of OSP, the agency has made 135 criminal arrests, analyzed 65,573 COVID-19-related domains, seized more than $12,004,505 million in illicit proceeds, disrupted 51 instances of illicit activity, sent 1,392 leads to domestic and international field offices, executed 126 search warrants and made 1,437 COVID-19-related seizures to include prohibited test kits and pharmaceuticals, counterfeit masks and more. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) 
Protecting American Businesses. Last week, CBP announced
 the seizure of nearly 60,000 counterfeit facemasks by the Baltimore Field Office that violated trademarks of numerous U.S. consumer brands.  

Friday, October 09, 2020

Guantanamo Periodic Review Board Media Invitation Announced

 Oct. 9, 2020


The Department of Defense will allocate seats for news media at the Pentagon satellite viewing location on Oct. 20, to cover unclassified portions of the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board for Ismael Ali Faraj Ali Bakush (ISN - 708).

Due to limited space availability, selection is not guaranteed. Upon selection, additional information on meeting time and location will be provided.

Media desiring to observe the hearing should send requests via email to osd.pentagon.pa.mbx.gtmo-press@mail.mil.

All requests must be received no later than noon ET, Oct. 15. Media members should include their name, position, sponsoring organization and contact information (cell phone and email address) in their request. Multiple names from the same organization may be submitted.

Further information, including media ground rules, can be viewed at the Periodic Review Secretariat website at http://www/prs.mil.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

ISIS Militants Charged With Deaths Of Americans In Syria

 Two ‘Beatles’ charged with hostage-taking of American citizens in Syria and other terrorism offenses that resulted in the deaths of James Wright Foley, Steven Joel Sotloff, Peter Edward Kassig, and Kayla Jean Mueller

Two militant fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a foreign terrorist organization, are expected to arrive in the United States today in FBI custody on charges related to their participation in a brutal hostage-taking scheme that resulted in the deaths of four American citizens, as well as the deaths of British and Japanese nationals, in Syria.

Former British citizens Alexanda Amon Kotey, 36, and El Shafee Elsheikh, 32, are expected to make their initial appearances in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia this afternoon.

“These charges are the product of many years of hard work in pursuit of justice for our citizens slain by ISIS.  Although we cannot bring them back, we can and will seek justice for them, their families, and for all Americans,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “Our message to other terrorists around the world is this — if you harm Americans, you will face American arms on the battlefield or American law in our courtrooms. Either way, you will be pursued to the ends of the earth until justice is done.”

“Today, we remember the victims, Jim Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig, and Kayla Mueller, and their families who are forever affected by these senseless acts of violence,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “These families have suffered with the painful loss of their loved ones at the hands of brutal killers; today's charges demonstrate the FBI's dedication and commitment to giving them the justice they deserve.  We, along with our partners in the U.S. Government, remain steadfast in our duty to bring to justice those who have harmed our citizens -- no matter where they are, and no matter how long it takes. I'm grateful to the men and women of the FBI, the victims' families, and our domestic and international partners, for their tireless efforts to bring us to where we stand today with the prosecution of these men on U.S. soil.”

According to allegations in the indictment, from 2012 to 2015, Kotey, Elsheikh, Mohamed Emwazi (deceased), and a fourth British citizen (CC-1) currently incarcerated in Turkey, were ISIS fighters and participated in the abduction of American and European hostages in Syria. The men also allegedly engaged in a prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence against the hostages, including against American citizens James Wright Foley, Kayla Jean Mueller, Steven Joel Sotloff, and Peter Edward Kassig. Due to their English accents and their history together in the United Kingdom, the four men were often referred to by hostages as “The Beatles”.

From August 2014 through October 2014, ISIS released videos depicting Emwazi’s barbaric beheadings of Foley, Sotloff, and British citizens David Haines and Alan Henning. In November 2014, ISIS released a video depicting the decapitated head of Kassig. In January 2015, ISIS released videos with images of two dead Japanese citizens.

“Kotey and Elsheikh are alleged to have committed horrific crimes in support of ISIS, including hostage taking resulting in the deaths of four American citizens,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Their alleged acts have shattered the lives of four American families. What each these families have sought more than anything else is for these defendants to have their day in court. Well, that day has come. While we cannot return their loved ones or undo the pain that these families face each day, we can do everything possible to ensure that the defendants are held accountable for their alleged savage actions.”

According to allegations in the indictment, Kotey, Elsheikh, and Emwazi, worked closely with Abu Muhammed al-Adnani, a former leading ISIS commander and chief media spokesperson. Until he was killed in a United States military airstrike in August 2016, Adnani reported directly to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the former self-proclaimed leader of ISIS. Baghdadi was killed during a United States military operation in Syria in October 2019.

“The indictments of Alexanda Kotey and Elshafee Elsheikh are the result of more than eight years of tireless work by the FBI Washington Field Office and personnel across the U.S. Government and the international law enforcement community,” said Acting Assistant Director in Charge James A. Dawson, FBI Washington Field Office. “These individuals allegedly conducted a litany of heinous and barbaric crimes as part of their duties as members of ISIS and for too long, the families of their victims have suffered while awaiting the day they would finally see justice for their loved ones. The men and women of the FBI remain dedicated to bringing the full force of the US justice system upon those who harm our citizens in furtherance of terrorism.”

Kotey, Elsheikh, and Emwazi met repeatedly with Adnani concerning the hostage-taking scheme and other matters. Between November 2012 and February 2015, Kotey, Elsheikh, Emwazi, and other ISIS fighters committed acts inflicting pain, suffering, cruelty and mistreatment on American, British, and other hostages in captivity.   

Throughout the captivity of the American hostages and others, Kotey, Elsheikh, and Emwazi allegedly supervised detention facilities holding hostages and were responsible for transferring hostages between detention facilities, in addition to engaging in a prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence against hostages. From November 2013 to February 2015, Kotey and Elsheikh allegedly coordinated the Western-hostage ransom negotiations conducted by email. Kotey and Elsheikh knew and understood that the release of American and other hostages was conditioned on the transfer of large sums of money or concessions from the United States government, such as the release of Muslim prisoners.

According to allegations in the indictment, on or about April 25, 2014, Kotey, Elsheikh, and Emwazi forcibly moved the Italian, Danish, and German citizens, along with two other European humanitarian aid workers, to an isolated area approximately two miles from their prison to witness the execution of a Syrian prisoner. Kotey and Elsheikh knew and understood this execution was part of the hostage negotiation process. Emwazi executed the Syrian prisoner by shooting him in the back of the head and then numerous times in the torso as he fell into a grave. Kotey instructed the hostages to kneel at the side of the grave and witness the execution while holding handmade signs pleading for their release. Elsheikh videotaped the execution of the Syrian hostage, and after the execution the three men returned the European hostages to the prison with Elsheikh telling one hostage, “You’re next, [First name].”

The indictment alleges that ISIS fighters also forcibly seized the following additional individuals: Two United Kingdom citizens, an Italian citizen, a Danish citizen, a German citizen, four French citizens, three Spanish citizens, a New Zealand citizen, and a Russian citizen.

Kotey and Elsheikh were captured together in January 2018 by the Syrian Democratic Forces as they attempted to escape Syria for Turkey. Emwazi was killed in a United States military airstrike conducted in November 2015 in Syria.      

 

The American Victims

James Wright Foley – In November 2012, Kotey, Elsheikh, Emwazi, and other ISIS fighters forcibly seized and detained Foley, a citizen of both the United States and the United Kingdom. On or about Aug. 19, 2014, ISIS’s media center released a video depicting Emwazi beheading Foley.

Kayla Jean Mueller – In August 2013, ISIS fighters forcibly seized and detained Mueller in Syria. Beginning in or about October 2014, Baghdadi sexually abused Mueller against her will while she was held captive in Syria. On or about Feb. 7, 2015, Mueller’s family received an email from ISIS fighters confirming Mueller’s death in Syria.

Steven Joel Sotloff – In August 2013, ISIS fighters forcibly seized and detained Sotloff in Syria. On or about Sept. 2, 2014, ISIS’s media center released a video depicting Emwazi beheading Sotloff.

Peter Edward Kassig – In October 2013, ISIS fighters forcibly seized and detained Kassig in Syria. On or about Nov. 16, 2014, ISIS’s media center released a video depicting the decapitated head of Kassig.

Kotey and Elsheikh are each charged with conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death; four counts of hostage taking resulting in death; conspiracy to murder United States citizens outside of the United States; conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists — hostage taking and murder — resulting in death; and conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization resulting in death. If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The Department of Justice expresses its profound appreciation to the United Kingdom government as well as the Syrian Democratic Forces for their dedicated commitment to assist the United States in seeking justice for all the victims of the alleged crimes.  

This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office. The Justice Department’s National Security Division and Office of International Affairs provided valuable assistance.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dennis M. Fitzpatrick, John T. Gibbs and Aidan Taft Grano, and Trial Attorney Alicia Cook of the National Security Division‘s Counterterrorism Section (CTS) are handling the prosecution, with the assistance of CTS Deputy Chief Bridget Behling.

An indictment is merely an accusation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

United States Seizes Domain Names Used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

 Seizure Documents Describe Iranian Government’s Efforts to Use Domains as Part of Global Disinformation Campaign

The United States has seized 92 domain names that were unlawfully used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to engage in a global disinformation campaign, announced the Department of Justice. 

According to the seizure documents, four of the domains purported to be genuine news outlets but were actually controlled by the IRGC and targeted the United States for the spread of Iranian propaganda to influence United States domestic and foreign policy in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), and the remainder spread Iranian propaganda to other parts of the world.  In addition, the seizure documents describe how all 92 domains were being used in violation of U.S. sanctions targeting both the Government of Iran and the IRGC. 

“We will continue to use all of our tools to stop the Iranian Government from misusing U.S. companies and social media to spread propaganda covertly, to attempt to influence the American public secretly, and to sow discord,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “Fake news organizations have become a new outlet for disinformation spread by authoritarian countries as they continue to try to undermine our democracy.  Today’s actions show that we can use a variety of laws to vindicate the value of transparency.”        

 “Today we are 92 domains closer to shutting down Iran’s worldwide disinformation campaign,” said U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson for the Northern District of California.  “This important work will continue.  Iran cannot be allowed to hide behind fake news sites.  If Iran wants to be heard using U.S. facilities, it must reveal its true colors.”

“Today, we successfully seized 92 domains involved in a disinformation campaign conducted by Iran-based actors to promote pro-Iranian propaganda.  This investigation, initiated by intelligence we received from Google, was a collaborative effort between the FBI and social media companies Google, Facebook, and Twitter,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Bennett. “This case is a perfect example of why the FBI San Francisco Division prioritizes maintaining an ongoing relationship with a variety of social media and technology companies.  These relationships enable a quick exchange of information to better protect against threats to the nation’s security and our democratic processes. The FBI also urges the public to remain vigilant about the information they find and share on social media. Every citizen must do their part to use a critical eye and look for trusted sources of information. We all have a role to play in protecting the American democratic system from foreign adversaries.”

Pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), unauthorized exports of goods, technology or services to Iran, directly or indirectly from the United States or by a United States person are prohibited. Pursuant to the IEEPA, the Secretary of the Treasury promulgated the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR) that prohibit the provision of services to the Government of Iran without a license.  The Department of Treasury may issue a license through its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).  Further, the United States has found that the IRGC has provided material support to a number of terrorist groups, including Hizballah, Hamas, and the Taliban and, on April 15, 2019, the IRGC was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States Government.

In this case, the United States seized 92 domain names on Oct. 7, 2020, pursuant to a seizure warrant.  The seizure documents describe how the 92 seized domain names were being operated in violation of federal law. 

Four of the domain names, “newsstand7.com,” “usjournal.net,” “usjournal.us,” and “twtoday.net,” were seized pursuant to FARA.  FARA establishes a registration, reporting, and disclosure regime for agents of foreign principals (which includes foreign non-government individuals and entities) so that the U.S. government and the people of the United States are informed of the source of information and the identity of persons attempting to influence U.S. public opinion, policy, and law.  FARA requires, among other things, that persons subject to its requirements submit periodic registration statements containing truthful information about their activities and the income earned from them.  Disclosure of the required information allows the federal government and the American people to evaluate the statements and activities of such persons in light of their function as foreign agents.  Here, the four domains purported to be independent news outlets, but were actually operated by or on behalf of the IRGC to target the United States with pro-Iranian propaganda in an attempt to influence the American people to change United States foreign and domestic policy toward Iran and the Middle East.  These domains targeted a United States audience without proper registration pursuant to FARA and without notifying the American public with a conspicuous notice that the content of the domains was being published on behalf of the IRGC and the Government of Iran.

In addition, the remaining 88 domains targeted audiences in Western Europe, the Middle East, and South East Asia and masqueraded as genuine news outlets while actually being operated by the IRGC to spread pro-Iranian disinformation around the globe to the benefit of the Government of Iran.  The Government of Iran and the IRGC utilized website and domain services in the United States without a license from OFAC.  All 92 domains are owned and operated by United States companies.  Neither the IRGC nor the Government of Iran obtained a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control prior to utilizing the domain names.  A list of the 92 seized domain names is available here.

Weekly Update: DHS Response to COVID-19

 

Leadership at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and across its component offices will continue to champion efforts to combat COVID-19 and ensure public healtand safety remain a top priority as it navigates through thpandemic environment.  

“Since the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, the Department of Homeland Security has never wavered in its commitment to keep the Homeland secure.” said Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli. “Every day, our front-line workers are committed to protecting the American people amid difficult circumstances while displaying our values of strength, commitment, and resilience.  I remain confident in the Department’s ability to continue to help the American people continue to fight this virus and come out on the other side stronger than before.” 

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Providing Grants to States for Supplemental Lost Wages Payments. To ease the economic burden for those struggling with lost wages due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, President Trump authorized FEMA to expend up to $44 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund for lost wage payments. As of October 2nd, Administrator Gaynor has approved 49 states, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands and the District of Columbia for FEMA grants under this unprecedented program. FEMA’s grant funding will allow the approved states to provide those unemployed due to COVID-19 $300 or 400 per week on top of their regular unemployment benefit. As of October 2nd, FEMA has awarded more than $41.7 Billion in support of Lost Wages supplemental assistance. All approved grant applicants receive an initial obligation of three weeks of funding, with additional disbursements made on a weekly basis.
 

Providing Full Federal Reimbursement for States’ National Guard Forces. On August 3rd, President Trump granted an extension for the use of the National Guard under Federal Title 32 orders to respond to COVID-19 until December 31, 2020. As of October 2nd, 16,309 National Guard troops have activated in T-32 duty status and 333 troops have activated in State Active Duty status to help with testing and other response efforts. To date, President Trump has approved 49 National Guard requests for federal support for the use of National Guard personnel in a Title 32 duty status through December 31. For those states and territories that are approved under these criteria, FEMA executed a fully reimbursable mission assignment to the Department of Defense, including reimbursement for pay and allowances of National Guard personnel serving in a Title 32 duty status in fulfillment of the FEMA mission assignment. 

Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC)
Graduating the Next Generation of Law Enforcement. FLETC continues to successfully implement testing, identification, isolation and containment protocols in managing the COVID-19 virus.  As of October 2, nearly 3,400 officers and agents have successfully graduated and are now in the field performing work that is critical to protect the homeland since training was restarted on June 17. There are currently 2,142 students attending in-residence training at Glynco, Charleston, and Artesia training delivery points, with an additional 68 students attending training at the Cheltenham training delivery point. Their graduation in the coming months and the continual influx of new students ensures that our federal law enforcement partners receive the trained personnel they need to help keep our nation secure. In addition, more than 7,100 officers and agents from federal, state, local, and tribal have taken part in FLETC online training, including nearly 4,200 participants for the Integrated Use of Force series. 

Science and Technology (S&T)
Driving Evidence-Based Policymaking. 
On September 30the DHS Science and Technology Directorate updated its Master Question List (MQL), and does so weekly, to compile available research on operationally-relevant questions to aid decision makers in the COVID-19 response. The MQL is a quick-reference guide covering what is known about the virus, what additional information is needed, and who may be working to address these fundamental questions. New entries include: 

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
Keeping Americans Safe While Ensuring Continuity of U.S. Travel and Commerce. 
Between Sept. 27th through Oct. 3rd, TSA screened more than 5,264,226 passengers, who have all reached their destinations safely. TSA officers are required to wear facial protection and gloves while on duty at the checkpoint. In support of air travel and all other modes of transportation, the agency continues to follow CDC guidance to protect Americans, its workers, and the nation’s transportation system. TSA continues to promote its “Stay Healthy. Stay Secure” campaign which outlines significant airport checkpoint modifications, including new technologies that reduce or eliminate physical contact, implemented to contain the spread of COVID-19, comply with CDC guidelines, and promote healthy and secure summer travel. 

Ready to Ensure Safety During the Summer Travel Period. On Sept. 29, TSA Administrator Pekoske visited JFK International Airport in NYC where he held a virtual town hall with all TSA employees.  TSA announced the implementation of new 3D checkpoint scanner technology at Buffalo Niagara International Airport on Sept 28, at Chippewa Regional Airport in Wisconsin on Sept 29, and at Harrisburg International on Sept 30.  The 3-D imagery allows TSA officers to manipulate the image on screen to get a better view of a bag’s contents and often clear items without having to open a carry-on bag, thereby reducing physical contact. On Sept 29, TSA announced acrylic barrier installations at various points throughout checkpoints at the following airports - Newark Liberty, Reagan National, Dulles, Raleigh-Durham - to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.   

United States Coast Guard (USCG)
Monitoring Vessels that Pose a Risk to Public Health. As of October 2nd, the USCG is tracking 61 cruise ships moored, at anchor, or underway in vicinity of a U.S. port, or with potential to arrive in a US port, with approximately 9,236 crewmembers. This includes an estimated 190 American Citizens crewmembers dispersed among 34 vessels. The Coast Guard is working with the CDC based on its extension of the No Sail Order for cruise ships, which permits the off-loading of crewmembers following submission of a plan to the CDC. 

Reservists. As of October 2nd, the USCG has recalled and deployed 439 Reservists in support of COVID-19 operations. They are activated to serve in numerous types of roles, including work in IT support, medical clinics, PPE warehouses, command centers and other incident management roles, notably assisting federal partners such as HHS, and supporting state emergency operations centers on behalf of FEMA. 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Keeping the Public Safe from COVID-19-Related Fraud
ICE’s Operation Stolen Promise (OSP) targets fraudulent activity stemming from the pandemic. The initiative combines ICE’s Homeland Security Investigation’s (HSI) expertise in global trade investigations, financial fraud, and cyber investigations with robust private and public partnerships to disrupt and dismantle this criminal activity and strengthen global supply-chain security. As of September 30, as part of OSP, the agency has made 132 criminal arrests, analyzed 63,674 COVID-19-related domains, seized more than $10,538,205 million in illicit proceeds, disrupted 51 instances of illicit activity, sent 1,374 leads to domestic and international field offices, executed 119 search warrants and made 1,369 COVID-19-related seizures to include prohibited test kits and pharmaceuticals, counterfeit masks and more. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
Continuing to Keep Americans Safe.
 Since January 1, CBP has made 1,147 seizures to protect consumers from counterfeit and prohibited COVID-19 products:  

  • 376 seizures of FDA-prohibited COVID-19 test kits, with more than 175,000 test kits seized. 
  • 319 seizures of counterfeit facemasks, with more than 12.6 million masks seized.
  • 116 seizures of EPA-prohibited anti-virus lanyards, with more than 36,000 seized.
  • 210 seizures of FDA-prohibited chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine tablets, with more than 36,000 seized. 
  • 92 seizures of antibiotics, such as azithromycin, with more than 5,000 tablets seized. 
  • 34 seizures of hand sanitizers, with nearly 300,000 items seized.