Thursday, February 28, 2019

ISIS Supporter Sentenced To Over 15 Years In Prison For Attempting To Provide Material Support To Foreign Terrorist Organization And Identity Theft

Defendant Admitted Creating Twitter and Facebook Accounts For People He Believed Were Supporters of ISIS

SAN FRANCISCO –Amer Sinan Alhaggagi was sentenced today to 188 months in prison for attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization and identity theft charges, announced United States Attorney David L. Anderson and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett.  The sentence was handed down by the Honorable Charles R. Breyer, Senior U.S. District Judge. 

“The highest priority of our counter-terrorism efforts is to prevent acts of violence before they occur,” said U.S. Attorney Anderson.  “Amer Alhaggagi hoped and intended to carry out acts of great cruelty in order to sow terror in our community.  Through the combined efforts of local and federal law enforcement, Alhaggagi was identified, apprehended, and prosecuted before he was able to commit the violence he schemed to commit.  This prosecution stands as an example of how homegrown extremists who seek to sow fear and panic into our communities can be stopped when law enforcement agencies work together.”

“Alhaggagi wanted to carry out deadly terrorist attacks in the United States in the name of ISIS,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers.  “Today’s sentencing shows the dedication of the National Security Division and our partners to hold accountable those who seek to provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations and to conduct violence on their behalf.  I commend the work of the agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this case.”

“Today is a tragedy for the Alhaggagi family and our community as we have lost yet another young person to the allure of extremist ideology focused on hatred and violence,” said John F. Bennett, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office. “This sentence serves as a reminder of how persistent and pervasive online radicalization has become and this should be a precautionary example for individuals who may be tempted by terrorist propaganda.  The FBI, through our Joint Terrorism Task Forces, remains dedicated to protecting the United States against any form of terrorism and ensuring the safety of our community.”

Alhaggagi, 23, of Oakland, Calif., pleaded guilty to the charges on July 18, 2018.  In pleading guilty, Alhaggagi admitted he knowingly attempted to provide services and personnel to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2339B.  ISIS was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States Secretary of State in 2014.

Federal prosecutors filed sentencing memoranda disclosing additional details of Alhaggagi’s conduct prior to and after his arrest.  For example, beginning in July of 2016, Alhaggagi boasted online about a series of terrorist attacks he wanted to commit on behalf the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (“ISIL”).  His aim was to “redefine terror,” and he promised that if he succeeded, the “whole Bay Area [was] gonna be in flames.”   Among his more vicious attacks, he planned to explode a car bomb outside a gay nightclub in San Francisco, and plant backpack bombs on routes known to be used by emergency vehicles, in an effort to kill first responders seeking to aid casualties.  In addition, even after his arrest, Alhaggagi hatched a new plot for a bomb attack and shared the plan with prison inmates.  At one point, Alhaggagi was driving through Berkeley towards the Oakland Hills with an undercover agent when he pointed out several bars and clubs “where all the students are.”  The defendant commented, “it’s a nice area to attack … it’s like, everybody’s in their own world, just doing their thing.”  He told the undercover agent that there were even more crowded areas in San Francisco that could make for good targets and said, “it’s not hard to target places, because there’s people everywhere.  But I was trying to target, you know, like clubs, you know, like dance clubs, bars … stuff like that . . ..”

In pleading guilty, Alhaggagi admitted to the following:

    In October and November of 2016, Alhaggagi created Twitter accounts and Facebook accounts along with the Gmail accounts that were necessary to authenticate them for individuals he believed were ISIS supporters.   
    In the Fall of 2016, Alhaggagi communicated with two individuals who asked him to set up social media accounts.  He communicated with the individuals from his computer while he was in Oakland, Calif., and admitted opening several Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail accounts at their request.  Alhaggagi also admitted knowing that both of the individuals were ISIS sympathizers and that by opening the social media accounts he was providing a service to ISIS.  According to government lawyers, at least one of the individuals Alhaggagi opened accounts for was an actual member of ISIS. 
    On November 29, 2016, the day of his arrest, Alhaggagi possessed a device used to make counterfeit credit cards and that between July and August 2016, he used a credit card with someone else’s name to buy more than $1,000 worth of clothes for himself online.

A federal grand jury indicted Alhaggagi on July 21, 2017, with one count of knowingly attempting to provide services and personnel to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2339B; one count of possessing an identity theft device, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(4); one count of unauthorized identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(2); and one count of aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A.  Alhaggagi pleaded guilty to all the charges without a written agreement.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Breyer ordered the defendant to serve ten years of supervised release to follow his prison term.   

The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Special Prosecutions and National Security Unit of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, the United States Department of Justice National Security Division, the Berkeley Police Department, the San Francisco Police Department, the University of California Berkeley Police Department, the Alameda County Sheriff, and members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force including the OaklandPolice Department.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Maple Heights man faces additional charges of making threats against the President and his family, as well as providing material support to al Qaeda

A superseding indictment was filed charging a Maple Heights man attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda, as well as making threats against the President, threats against the family of the President and false statements to law enforcement.

Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts, aka Abdur Raheem Rafeeq, aka Salah ad-Deen Osama Waleed, 49, has been in custody since July, when he was arrested after allegedly planning a terrorist attack in Cleveland. He was previously indicted on one count of attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda.

Pitts on June 15, 2018, did knowingly and willfully make a threat to kidnap and inflict bodily harm upon Donald J. Trump, specifically that he would “get” the President by cutting off the President’s head and hands, according to the indictment.

Pitts on June 15, 2018 also knowingly and willfully made threats to kidnap and inflict bodily harm upon members of the President’s family, specifically that “…a better way to get, to get him is to kill his kids. Kill his daughter, son-in-law. Kill ‘em all. He (the President) come out ‘cause you start killing his kids, chop their heads off…you send his kids back,” according to the indictment.

According to an affidavit filed in the case, between 2015 and 2017, Pitts expressed anti-American sentiments and expressed a desire to recruit people to kill Americans.  The defendant expressed a desire to meet with an al Qaeda “brother” and in June he was introduced to an FBI employee acting in an undercover capacity (UCE), who Pitts believed was such a “brother.”

Pitts and the UCE met in Walton Hills, Ohio, where they discussed launching an attack for al Qaeda during the July 4th holiday.

Pitts said: “I’m trying to figure out something that would shake them up on the 4th of July.”  He later stated: “What would hit them at their core?  Blow up in the, have a bomb blow up in the 4th of July parade.”

Pitts and the UCE searched Google for a map of downtown Cleveland.  After learning the fireworks would be launched from Voinovich Park, Pitts said: “Oh there you go. Oh yeah.”  He was also pleased the park was near the U.S. Coast Guard station, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Celebrezze Federal Building.

The meeting concluded with Pitts indicating to the UCE that he would travel to downtown Cleveland soon to take photographs and videotape footage as part of surveillance efforts of Voinovich Park and the U.S. Coast Guard station.  He also expressed a desire to take a tour of the U.S. Coast Guard station to gain as much information as he could about the layout of the facility.

The UCE texted Pitts later on June 22 and where he indicated al Qaeda “brothers” would provide Pitts with a bus pass and cellular phone.

On June 25, Pitts met with an FBI confidential human source (CHS) in Maple Heights, Ohio, who provided Pitts with a bus pass and a phone Pitts could use to communicate with the UCE.  The bus pass was provided to Pitts, as he requested, so he could travel to downtown Cleveland to conduct surveillance for the July 4th attack.

On June 26, Pitts contacted the UCE via text message and relayed that he had completed the reconnaissance of the designated spots in downtown Cleveland and that he desired to “destroy the government.”

Pitts also indicated he intended to travel to Philadelphia, since Philadelphia is his hometown and he knows it best.  Pitts indicated it was his “job” to “go look at the base of the ground” and that it was up to other “brothers” to complete other parts of the job.

On June 27, Pitts met with the CHS and turned over the phone that contained the reconnaissance photos and videos, so they could be provided to the al Qaeda brothers.

Later on June 27, Pitts and the UCE met in Maple Heights then drove to downtown Cleveland, where they discussed the impending July 4th bombing.

“And I’m gonna be downtown when the – when the thing go off.  I’m gonna be somewhere cuz I wanna see it go off,” Pitts said.

A search of the phone that Pitts provided to the CHS revealed that he made two videos in which he pledged allegiance.  He stated, in part: “We serve Allah . . . We fight our enemies.  We destroy them and destroy those who try to oppose…”

The phone also had four videos taken by Pitts that show him walking down East 9th Street in Cleveland, pointing out potential targets such as the federal building, the Coast Guard station and St. John’s Cathedral, which he said could be taken “off the map.”

On July 1, Pitts met with the UCE in Garfield Heights, Ohio, for Pitts to explain his plan for Philadelphia.  Pitts said he planned to travel there to conduct reconnaissance for a future attack in Philadelphia.  Pitts stated a truck bomb packed with explosives, such as the one used in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, would be the best way to cause maximum damage.

Pitts was reminded by the UCE that people would die and body parts would by flying around.  Pitts responded “I don’t care” and that he had “no regrets,” would be able to “go to sleep” and “I don’t give a (expletive).”

If convicted, the defendant’s sentence will be determined by the Court after review of factors unique to this case, including the defendant’s prior criminal record, if any, the defendant’s role in the offense and the characteristics of the violations.  In all cases, the sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum and, in most cases, it will be less than the maximum.

This investigation is being conducted by the FBI-Cleveland Division’s Joint Terrorism Task.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michelle Baeppler and Matthew Shepherd of the Northern District of Ohio, and Trial Attorney Paul Casey of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt.  A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Manhattan Man Arrested For Attempting And Conspiring To Provide Material Support To Terrorist Organization

Jesus Wilfredo Encarnacion Was Arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport While Allegedly Attempting to Travel Overseas to Join Lashkar e-Tayyiba

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, John C. Demers, the Assistant Attorney General for National Security, William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and James P. O’Neill, the Commissioner of the Police Department for the City of New York (“NYPD”), announced that JESUS WILFREDO ENCARNACION, a/k/a “Jihadistsoldgier,” “Jihadinhear,” “Jihadinheart,” “Lionofthegood,” was arrested last night at John F. Kennedy International Airport (“JFK Airport”) in Queens, New York.  ENCARNACION was charged by a criminal Complaint earlier today with attempting and conspiring to provide material support to Lashkar e-Tayyiba (“LeT”), a Pakistan-based designated foreign terrorist organization responsible for multiple high-profile attacks, including the infamous Mumbai attacks in November 2008.  ENCARNACION is expected to be presented later today before Magistrate Judge Henry B. Pitman in Manhattan federal court.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “As alleged, Jesus Encarnacion, a Manhattan man, plotted to travel to Pakistan to join and train with the terrorist organization Lashkar e-Tayyiba, which is infamous around the world for perpetrating the lethal 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and other atrocities.  The excellent work of the FBI and NYPD stopped Encarnacion’s alleged plan to support this deadly terrorist organization before he took flight, and now he will face federal terrorism charges.”

Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers said:  “Encarnacion allegedly attempted to travel to Pakistan to join a foreign terrorist organization and conspired with another individual to provide that organization with material support.  The National Security Division is committed to identifying and holding accountable those who seek to join and support designated foreign terrorist organizations.”

FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said:  “As alleged, not only did Mr. Encarnacion express a desire to execute and behead people, he scheduled travel and almost boarded a plane so he could go learn how to become a terrorist.  These organizations are using the internet and social media to appeal to the most barbaric impulses in people, and train them to kill.  The FBI New York Joint Terrorism Task Force will continue to do all it can to stop these alleged criminals before innocent people are killed.”

NYPD Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill said:  “As alleged, Jesus Encarnacion had expressed his desire to commit a terrorist attack while living in New York City and never abandoned those plans.  Allegedly, one of his stated motives for traveling overseas was to get the training and experience he believed he needed to someday return to the United States and carry out attacks.  I want to commend the FBI Agents, NYPD Detectives and representatives of 54 other agencies that make up the Joint Terrorism Task Force for the investigation that led to this arrest.”

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

In November 2018, ENCARNACION expressed his desire to join a terrorist group in an online group chat, where he met another individual (“CC-1”).  CC-1 introduced ENCARNACION to an individual who, unbeknownst to CC-1 or ENCARNACION, was in fact an undercover FBI employee (“UC-1”).  ENCARNACION repeatedly expressed, in the course of recorded communications through a social media service with CC-1 and through an encrypted messaging service with UC-1, his allegiance to and support for LeT, which, since approximately 2001, has been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States Secretary of State.

Over the past several months, ENCARNACION has discussed his desire and plans to join LeT overseas so that he could receive training and participate in violent acts of terrorism.  For example, ENCARNACION told UC-1 that he was “ready to kill and die in the name of Allah” and sought UC-1’s assistance to help ENCARNACION travel to abroad to serve as an “executioner” for LeT, stating, “I want to execute.  I want to behead.  Shoot.”  ENCARNACION further stated that he aspired to commit terrorist attacks (“a bombing and shooting”) in the United States, but lacked “guidance” and “guns” to do so.

During the months that followed, ENCARNACION and UC-1 agreed on a plan that ENCARNACION believed would allow him to join LeT in Pakistan.  ENCARNACION told UC-1 that he had made arrangements to travel to a particular city in Europe (the “European City”), as the first step of traveling to Pakistan to join LeT.  ENCARNACION purchased an airline ticket for a flight scheduled to depart on February 7, 2019, from JFK Airport, to the European City.  On February 7, ENCARNACION traveled to JFK Airport, where he was arrested by the FBI after he attempted to board that flight.

*                      *                      *

ENCARNACION, 29, of Manhattan, is charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization and one count of conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.  The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by a judge.

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding efforts of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which consists of agents from the FBI, detectives from the NYPD, and officers from numerous other agencies, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which assisted significantly in this case.  Mr. Berman 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 David W. Denton Jr. and Kimberly J. Ravener are in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.                   

[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.