Thursday, June 29, 2017

Ohio Man Pleads Guilty to Providing Material Support to Terrorists

Court records unsealed today reveal that Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud, 25, of Columbus, Ohio, pleaded guilty to all counts alleged against him regarding a terrorist plot.

A federal grand jury charged Mohamud in April 2015 with one count of attempting to provide and providing material support to terrorists, one count of attempting to provide and providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization – namely, al-Nusrah Front – and one count of making false statements to the FBI involving international terrorism in an indictment returned in Columbus. Mohamud pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Preston Deavers on Aug. 14, 2015, and the plea was sealed because of an ongoing investigation.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Glassman for the Southern District of Ohio, Special Agent in Charge Angela L. Byers of the FBI, Prosecutor Ron O’Brief for Franklin County, and the FBI’s Columbus Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), announced the plea unsealed by U.S. District Judge James L. Graham.

“Mohamud admitted to traveling overseas, providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, and receiving training from terrorists. He also admitted to returning to the United States and planning to conduct an attack on American soil. He will now be held accountable for his crimes,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente. “The National Security Division’s highest priority is counterterrorism. We will remain vigilant in our efforts to identify, disrupt, and bring to justice those who provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations and seek to conduct attacks on our homeland.”

“National security is the first priority of this office, and we will use every tool at our disposal to stop those who support foreign terrorist organizations and those who seek to do harm in the United States,” U.S. Attorney Glassman said.

“Each day the Joint Terrorism Task Force and our law enforcement partners are working to keep the community safe from those who wish to disrupt our way of life,” said Special Agent in Charge Byers. "We must continue to remain vigilant against these potential threats.”

“This case illustrates the effectiveness of the local JTTF and the cooperative effort in the Columbus area that exists to combat terrorism,” said Franklin County Prosecutor O’Brien.

According to court documents, Mohamud is a Somali-born naturalized citizen of the U.S. who, in 2014, obtained a U.S. passport and one-way ticket to Greece. During his travel in April 2014, Mohamud did not board his connecting flight to Athens, Greece; rather, during his layover in Istanbul, Turkey, he completed pre-arranged plans to cross the border into Syria. In Syria, Mohamud received training from al-Nusrah Front, a terrorist organization affiliated with al-Qaeda.

According to a statement of facts supporting Mohamud’s guilty plea, while in Syria, Mohamud trained with al-Nusrah Front on fitness, and on the use of weapons and tactics. Mohamud also engaged in a firefight and expressed his desire to die fighting in Syria.

After his brother was killed while fighting for al-Nusrah Front, Mohamud returned to the U.S. According to the statement of facts, after returning to the U.S., Mohamud planned to obtain weapons in order to kill military officers or other government employees or people in uniform. Evidence seized by the FBI indicates that Mohamud researched places in the U.S. to carry out such plans.

Mohamud was originally arrested and indicted in state court and a $1 million bond was set that maintained him in custody. Those state charges were dismissed when the federal prosecution commenced. Mohamud was then transferred into federal custody following the April 2015 indictment and remains in custody.

Providing material support to terrorists and providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization are each crimes punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Making false statements involving international terrorism carries a maximum sentence of eight years in prison. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. The sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente and U.S. Attorney Glassman commended the cooperative investigation of the FBI’s JTTF with numerous local partners. Trial Attorneys Bridget Behling and Lolita Lukose of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Douglas Squires, Jessica H. Kim and Salvador Dominguez and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Gibson of the Southern District of Ohio, are prosecuting the case.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

North Carolina Man Sentenced to Life in Prison for Attempting to Commit an Act of Terrorism Transcending National Boundaries

Justin Nojan Sullivan, 21, of Morganton, North Carolina, was sentenced today to life in prison for attempting to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries, in support of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Sullivan pleaded guilty to the charge on Nov. 29, 2016.

Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose of the Western District of North Carolina and Special Agent in Charge John A. Strong of the FBI’s Charlotte, North Carolina Division, made the announcement. U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger presided over the sentencing.

“Sullivan is a convicted terrorist who plotted with now-deceased Syria-based terrorist Junaid Hussain to execute acts of mass violence in the United States in the name of ISIS,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente. “Counterterrorism remains our highest priority and we will continue to identify and hold accountable those who seek to commit acts of terrorism within our borders. I want to thank the many agents, analysts and prosecutors who are responsible for this result.”

“Sullivan was actively planning the mass killing of innocent people with an attack designed to inflict maximum casualties and maximum pain in the name of ISIS, a sworn enemy of our nation. Sullivan’s allegiance to ISIS did not stop there. He also planned to film and send a video of his deadly attack to now-deceased Junaid Hussain, a prominent ISIS member based in Syria, and further expressed his wish to create a new branch of the so-called Islamic State in the United States. The life sentence imposed on Sullivan reflects the seriousness of his crimes, protects the public from the danger he poses, and serves as a deterrent to others who wish to harm civilians within our borders. Our fight against terrorism continues whether against those who commit crimes on behalf of ISIS or any other foreign terrorist organization,” said U.S. Attorney Rose.

“Identifying a terrorist before an attack happens is one of the most difficult tasks we face in the FBI. We compare it to finding a needle in a stack of needles. But that is exactly what we did to stop Justin Sullivan (link is external) from carrying out his murderous plot in the name of ISIL. It took an incredible level of cooperation and collaboration between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Today’s life in prison sentence is the result of the hard work of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force working around the clock to protect this country from those who seek to do us harm,” said Special Agent in Charge Strong.

Federal Terrorism Charges

According to information contained in court documents, starting no later than September 2014, Sullivan sought out and downloaded violent ISIS attacks on the Internet, such as beheadings, and collected them on his laptop computer. Court records indicate that Sullivan openly expressed support for ISIS in his home and destroyed religious items that belonged to his parents.

As Sullivan previously admitted in plea related documents filed with the court and at his plea hearing, beginning no later than June 7, 2015, Sullivan conspired with Junaid Hussain, an ISIS member responsible for online recruitment and providing directions and inspiration for terrorist plots in Western countries, to plan mass shooting attacks in North Carolina and Virginia. Sullivan discussed those plans on social media with an undercover FBI employee (UCE), who Sullivan attempted to recruit to join in such attacks.

Court documents indicate that Sullivan told the UCE via social media that it was better to remain in the U.S. to support ISIS than to travel. Sullivan suggested that the UCE obtain weapons and told the UCE that he was planning to buy a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle at an upcoming gun show in Hickory, North Carolina. On or about June 20, 2015, Sullivan attempted to purchase hollow point ammunition to be used with the weapon(s) he intended to purchase.

According to court records, Sullivan had researched on the Internet how to manufacture firearm silencers and asked the UCE to build functional silencers that they could use to carry out the planned attacks. Court records show that Sullivan told the UCE he planned to carry out his attack in the following few days at a concert, bar or club, where he believed as many as 1,000 people would be killed using the assault rifle and silencer.

Filed documents indicate that over the course of Sullivan’s communications with Junaid Hussain, Hussain had asked Sullivan to make a video of his planned terrorist attack, to which Sullivan had agreed.

On or about June 19, 2015, the silencer, which was built according to Sullivan’s instructions, was delivered to him at his home in North Carolina, where Sullivan’s mother opened the package. Sullivan took the silencer from his mother and hid it in a crawl space under his house. When Sullivan’s parents questioned him about the silencer, Sullivan, believing that his parents would interfere with his plans to carry out an attack, offered to compensate the UCE to kill them. 

Sullivan previously admitted that he took substantial steps towards carrying out terrorist attacks in North Carolina and Virginia by: (1) recruiting the UCE; (2) obtaining a silencer from the UCE; (3) procuring the money that would have enabled him to purchase the AR-15; (4) trying to obtain a specific type of ammunition that he believed would be the most “deadly”; (5) identifying separate gun shows where he and the UCE could purchase AR-15s; and (6) obtained a coupon for the gun shows he planned for himself and the UCE to attend on June 20 or 21, 2015.

The Court’s Findings

The Court announced its reasons for accepting the agreed life sentence. The Court noted that Sullivan’s plan to murder innocent civilians at a social gathering was similar to the Orlando nightclub attack in 2016. According to the Court, Sullivan’s plan, however, was more sinister because he planned to use stealth – including a mask to hide his identity and a silencer to kill as many as possible, with the hope to escape and kill again. The Court found that Sullivan’s offense was cold and calculating.

In making today’s announcement, Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente and U.S. Attorney Rose praised the investigative efforts of the FBI, the Burke County Sheriff’s Office and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente and U.S. Attorney Rose also thanked the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Charlotte Division, the FBI’s Washington Field Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Charlotte, the North Carolina Highway Patrol and the Hickory Police Department for their assistance in this investigation.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael E. Savage of the Western District of North Carolina and Trial Attorney Gregory R. Gonzalez of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

New York Man Arrested for Attempting to Provide Material Support to ISIS

Saddam Mohamed Raishani, a/k/a “Adam Raishani,” 30, of the Bronx was arrested last night at John F. Kennedy International Airport (“JFK Airport”) in Queens, New York. Raishani was charged by a criminal Complaint earlier today with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (“ISIS” or the “Islamic State”), a designated foreign terrorist organization. Raishani is expected to be presented later today before Magistrate Judge James L. Cott in Manhattan federal court.

Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana Boente, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim for the Southern District of New York, Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. of the FBI’s New York Field Office, and Commissioner James P. O’Neill of the NYPD made the announcement.

“According to the complaint, Raishani attempted to travel overseas to join ISIS and to provide material support to the designated terrorist organization,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente. “The National Security Division’s highest priority is countering terrorist threats, and we will continue to work to stem the flow of foreign fighters abroad and bring to justice those who attempt to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations. I would like to thank all of the agents, analysts and prosecutors who are responsible for this case.”

“As alleged, Saddam Mohamed Raishani, a Bronx man, plotted to travel to Syria to join and train with the terrorist organization ISIS,” said Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Kim. “Having already helped another man make that trip to ISIS’s heartland, Raishani allegedly acted on his own desire to wage violent jihad, planning to leave his family and life in New York City for the battlefields of the Middle East. Thanks to the excellent work of the FBI and NYPD, Raishani’s alleged plan to support this deadly terrorist organization was cut short at the airport and now he will face federal terrorism charges.”

“This case is another alleged instance of the nature of the terrorism threat and its reach into communities here at home,” said Assistant Director in Charge Sweeney Jr. “It is also a great example of the coordination which exists among local and federal law enforcement partners who work together to stop these alleged threats and interdict individuals allegedly determined on joining a terrorist organization intent on conducting violence around the globe. The FBI’s JTTF will continue to work with our partners, both here and abroad, to prevent acts of terrorism.”

“As we have seen many times before, allegedly attempting to join a designated terrorist organization usually has one outcome: arrest,” said Commissioner O’Neill. “Thank you to the NYPD detectives and FBI agents who, through the original Joint Terrorism Task Force, remain relentless in their focus to keep New York City safe.”

As alleged in the criminal Complaint,[1] filed today in Manhattan federal court:

In January 2017, Raishani contacted an individual who was, unbeknownst to Raishani, a confidential source working at the direction of law enforcement (the “CS”). During a meeting with the CS, Raishani told the CS that Raishani had a friend (“Person-1”), who had left New York to join the Islamic State some time ago.[2] Raishani told the CS that prior to Person-1’s departure, Raishani took Person-1 shopping to buy supplies to bring to the Islamic State. Riashani also said to the CS that, on the day of Person-1’s departure, Raishani gave money to Person-1 and drove Person-1 to JFK Airport. In later meetings with the CS, Raishani expressed his regret at not having traveled with Person-1 to join ISIS. Raishani also indicated his desire to wage jihad and his belief that the Quran can be read to justify the violence, including beheadings, engaged in by ISIS.  

As part of the investigation, the CS introduced Raishani to an undercover law enforcement officer (“UC-1”), who was posing as an individual who wanted to travel abroad to fight for ISIS. During meetings with the CS and UC-1, Raishani expressed his desire to travel abroad to join ISIS. For example, Raishani stated that he had been in contact with other ISIS supporters and no longer felt comfortable in the United States. He also showed UC-1 a video that appeared to depict ISIS supporters discussing their desire to travel overseas to join ISIS and its ongoing fight. Raishani further showed the CS and UC-1 an ISIS video that appeared to depict ISIS members in Yemen killing civilians who did not support ISIS.  

In addition, Raishani advised the CS and UC-1 as to how they could avoid detection by law enforcement. For example, Raishani advised the CS to cover the camera on the CS’s computer and turn off the computer’s microphone when watching pro-ISIS videos online.  Raishani also advised the CS to use a particular Internet browser (the “Browser”) to hide their online activity, and explained that he used the Browser to watch ISIS and jihadi videos online.  Furthermore, Raishani himself put on gloves when using a laptop and viewing pro-ISIS and pro-jihadi videos online. Moreover, Raishani told UC-1 that if they traveled together to join ISIS, Raishani, a home health aide, could pose as a nurse and UC-1 could pose as a refugee aid worker, in order to cross international borders without being stopped and questioned by authorities. Finally, Raishani told the CS and UC-1 that he (Raishani) had to be careful because he believed that federal authorities were monitoring his activities.

By April 2017, Raishani was actively planning to travel abroad to join ISIS. The CS told Raishani that, through a family acquaintance, the CS might be able to obtain contact information for an ISIS affiliate capable of facilitating travel to join ISIS. In reality, the purported facilitator was an FBI employee acting in an undercover capacity (“UC-2”). In May 2017, Raishani contacted UC-2 and said that he had previously helped another individual travel to join ISIS.  Raishani further told UC-2 that he was seeking guidance for his own “hijrah,” an Arabic term normally used to refer to migration, but which is also used by ISIS supporters to refer to traveling overseas to join ISIS and engage in jihad. In subsequent conversations with the CS, UC-1, and/or UC-2, Raishani stated that he aspired to travel to Syria to join ISIS and that he aimed to travel before the end of Ramadan, an Islamic holy month that runs from approximately May 26 through June 24 this year. He indicated that he would be in contact with UC-2 about his travel. Raishani also stated that if he is “locked up,” he will not care, as “Allah will reward [him] for attempting jihad.”

In June 2017, Raishani told the CS that he was making preparations to leave, including paying off his remaining debts. Subsequently, Raishani and UC-1 purchased clothing that they intended to wear for their training with ISIS. Earlier this week, Raishani revealed to UC-2 his (Raishani’s) intention to meet an ISIS member in Turkey in the next few days, who would facilitate Raishani’s joining the terrorist organization. Raishani also purchased an airline ticket for a flight scheduled to depart on June 21, 2017, from JFK Airport to Istanbul, Turkey, via Lisbon, Portugal. On June 21, 2017, Raishani traveled to JFK Airport, where he was arrested by the FBI after he attempted to board that flight to Lisbon.             *                      *                      *

Raishani, is charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by a judge. The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Mr. Kim praised the outstanding efforts of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which principally consists of agents from the FBI and detectives from the NYPD, and the NYPD’s Intelligence Division. Mr. Kim also thanked the Counterterrorism Section of the Department of Justice’s National Security Division.

This prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys George D. Turner, Sidhardha Kamaraju, and Jane Kim are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance from Trial Attorney Kevin C. Nunnally of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint and the description of the Complaint set forth below are only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.