Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Brownsburg man sentenced in terrorism case

Man convicted of attempting to travel to join ISIS

Indianapolis – Josh J. Minkler, the United States Attorney, announced today that Akram Musleh, 21, of Brownburg, Indiana, has been sentenced to 100 months’ imprisonment in connection with his plot to travel from the United States to Syria and join the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

The sentence, handed down by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker at a hearing in Indianapolis, Friday afternoon, represents the culmination of a years-long investigation led by the United States Attorney’s Office and agents of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, with assistance from the Brownsburg Police Department.

During the sentencing hearing today, the court heard that Musleh was arrested three years ago today, on June 21, 2016, as he boarded a bus from Indianapolis to New York City, the first stop on Musleh’s trip to North Africa, Turkey, and finally ISIS controlled territory in Syria.  The court heard that Musleh had been on the radar of the Indianapolis FBI Field Office ever since the summer of 2013, when Musleh began posting videos of Anwar al-Awlaki, a member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), on his various social media accounts, and praising al-Awlaki’s ideology. The FBI interviewed Musleh at Brownsburg High School (“BHS”), where Musleh was enrolled as a student, in December of 2013.

But the FBI interview did little to deter Musleh. Musleh continued to consume ISIS propaganda online, and purchase items linked to the terror group, including a black turban and a black shahada flag, the now infamous symbol of terror around the world. Between April and June of 2015, the court heard that Musleh booked four separate airplane tickets from the Chicago O’Hare Airport to Iraq and Turkey. While three of those reservations were ultimately canceled, on June 23, 2015, Musleh arrived at O’Hare and attempted to board the fourth flight. Officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) intercepted Musleh, then 17 years old, before he could board the flight, and prevented him from traveling. At the time, CBP searched Musleh’s bags and discovered several journals which contained quotes from multiple members of designated terrorist organizations to include: al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in Iraq, and ISIS.

Shockingly, as the court heard today, not even his encounter with CBP at O’Hare was enough to deter Musleh from his goal to join and fight with ISIS. On April 6, 2016, Musleh booked a one-way ticket from John F. Kennedy International (“JFK”) Airport in New York to Nador, Morocco, departing on June 23, 2016. Between May 1 and June 20, 2016, the FBI monitored Musleh as he continued to consume ISIS propaganda and made contact with more than 12 different ISIS fighters, supporters and facilitators around the world in a renewed effort to travel to join the terrorist organization. In his conversations with those contacts, Musleh declared his allegiance to ISIS, expressed his eagerness to join ISIS, and sought to determine the best way to travel from the United States to ISIS controlled territory in Syria or North Africa. Musleh also sought the advice of his contacts on when to travel, and the best routes to travel to avoid detection by law enforcement authorities. When one of his contacts suggested Musleh send money to support the terror organization instead of traveling, Musleh replied that he was afraid sending money would draw law enforcement attention and Musleh “[didn’t] want to lose [his] freedom before doing something massive.” At the suggestion of his contacts, Musleh also purchased a return ticket from Morocco to the United States to avoid law enforcement scrutiny of his one-way ticket.

Ultimately, Musleh was arrested on June 21, 2016, as he attempted to board a bus from Indianapolis to New York City where he intended to board the flight to Morocco. In searches of Musleh’s electronic devices the FBI recovered numerous files containing ISIS propaganda, including horrific pictures and videos depicting the violence inflicted on countless people in the middle east and north Africa. Also located on Musleh’s electronic devices were a “kill list” of U.S. service members published by ISIS, and a pro-jihad video Musleh produced and created which included a listing of Hoosier service members killed in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“The homegrown radicalization of American youth is a challenge the entire country faces and one our district must rally against with swift, determined, and unwavering resolve,” said Minkler. “Enforcement is charged with and proud to ferret out and hold responsible those who engage in treacherous behavior. But this case is a stark reminder that enforcement needs the community to partner with us. If you see something, you must say something. We are pleased and grateful to the men and women of the FBI for disrupting Musleh’s plans.”

“This matter is another instance of the nature of terrorism and its pervasive reach into our communities. It also emphasizes the invaluable partnerships the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force has with our state and local partners to identify and disrupt the activities of those like Akram Musleh - who remained unwavering in his allegiance to ISIS,” said Robert Middleton, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Indianapolis Division. “Today's sentence highlights the dedication of all involved who work tirelessly every day to prevent acts of terrorism around the globe.”

According to Assistant United States Attorney Matthew J. Rinka, who leads the office’s National Security Unit, Musleh was also ordered to serve 140 months’ supervised release following his incarceration.

In October 2017, United States Attorney Josh J. Minkler announced a Strategic Plan designed to shape and strengthen the District’s response to its most significant public safety challenges. This prosecution demonstrates the Office’s firm commitment to identifying, disrupting and prosecuting those who engage in international and domestic terrorism. See United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Indiana Strategic Plan 1.1.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Defendant Sentenced to 26 Years’ Imprisonment for Conspiring to Murder Five U.S. Soldiers

Defendant Participated in Plot to Conduct Suicide Attacks Against Coalition Forces

Earlier today, in federal court in Brooklyn, Faruq Khalil Muhammad ‘Isa was sentenced to 26 years’ imprisonment to be followed by a lifetime of supervised release by United States District Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf for his role in conspiring to murder U.S. soldiers in Iraq.  ‘Isa pleaded guilty to the charge in March 2018.  The Court entered a judicial order of removal to Canada.

Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), and James P. O’Neill, Commissioner, New York City Police Department (NYPD), announced the sentence.

“With today’s sentence, ‘Isa has been held accountable for his role in a deadly conspiracy that ultimately contributed to the tragic loss of five U.S. soldiers in Iraq,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue.  “This Office, together with the FBI, the NYPD and all the members of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, will take every step necessary to apprehend and prosecute terrorists, wherever they are located, in furtherance of our fundamental mission of protecting the American people.”

“Today’s sentence brings some measure of earthly justice to an individual involved in the deaths of five service members, but it cannot begin to compensate for the evil he contributed to or alleviate the pain of those families whose lives he changed forever,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers.  “We in the National Security Division are inspired in our work by those who put their lives on the line to keep us safe.”

“Muhammad ‘Isa’s efforts to facilitate a suicide attack, one that ultimately resulted in the death of five young American soldiers in Iraq, has landed him a sentence of more than two decades behind bars,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.  “While this sentence is significant, it doesn’t come close to mitigating the pain and suffering these soldiers’ families will face for the rest of their lives. As this case comes to a close, let us remember the names of those who were murdered that day, and vow to never forget the daily sacrifices made by the brave men and women of the U.S. armed forces and their families.”

“The NYPD will do everything in its power to combat terror, and to support the brave men and women serving our country overseas,” stated NYPD Commissioner O’Neill.  “This includes defeating deadly terrorist conspiracies that target U.S. troops.  I want to commend our partners in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI for helping to bring Mr. ‘Isa to justice for his role in this tragic and cowardly act.”

The defendant was a member of a multinational terrorist network that helped those who wished to carry out suicide bombings travel to Iraq.  On April 10, 2009, terrorists associated with the network carried out an attack on the United States Military’s Forward Operating Base Marez (“FOB Marez”) in Mosul, Iraq.  Terrorists drove a truck laden with explosives drove to the gate of FOB Marez, and exchanged fire with Iraqi police officers guarding the base and then with an American convoy exiting the base.  The truck detonated alongside the last vehicle in the convoy, leaving a 60-foot crater in the ground.  Five American soldiers were killed in the blast:  Staff Sergeant Gary L. Woods, 24, of Lebanon Junction, Kentucky; Sergeant First Class Bryan E. Hall, 32, of Elk Grove, California; Sergeant Edward W. Forrest Jr., 25, of St. Louis, Missouri; Corporal Jason G. Pautsch, 20, of Davenport, Iowa; and Army Private First Class Bryce E. Gaultier, 22, of Cyprus, California.

While residing in Canada, the defendant communicated with Syria- and Iraq-based members of the terrorist network, including certain individuals who conducted the April 10, 2009 attack.  In those communications, the defendant suggested a contact to facilitate travel for the attackers from Syria into Iraq, in addition to offering words of encouragement and religious guidance.  He also communicated with a group of prospective suicide bombers whose efforts to travel to Iraq were ultimately unsuccessful.

‘Isa has been incarcerated since his extradition from Canada in January 2015.

The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s National Security and Cybercrime Section.  Assistant United States Attorney Alexander A. Solomon is in charge of the prosecution with the assistance of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

The Defendant:

Age: 51
Toronto, Canada

E.D.N.Y. Docket No.  11-CR-819 (RRM)

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Local Man Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison for Trying to Join ISIS

DAYTON – A Dayton man was sentenced today in U.S. District Court to 180 months in prison and 25 years of supervised release for attempting, and conspiring, to join the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).  U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Glassman for the Southern District of Ohio, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers and Special Agent in Charge Todd A. Wickerham of the FBI’s Cincinnati Division made the announcement.

“Alebbini was prepared to kill soldiers and citizens of the United States, the Kingdom of Jordan, and coalition partners fighting against ISIS.  Indeed, Alebbini was prepared to kill any person who did not accept ISIS as the Islamic Caliphate,” said U.S. Attorney Glassman. “Prison is the right place for him.”

“Alebbini was determined to travel overseas for the purpose of joining ISIS and engaging in violence in support of the foreign terrorist organization,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers.  “Notwithstanding pleas from others close to him, Alebbini declared that he is a terrorist and decided to move forward with his plan to join ISIS.  Thanks to the great work of the agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are assigned to this case, Alebbini’s plans were thwarted and he is being held accountable for his crimes.”

Laith Waleed Alebbini, 28, was convicted following a bench trial in November and December 2018 before U.S. District Judge Walter H. Rice.

Alebbini attempted, and conspired, to provide material support and resources to ISIS in the form of personnel, namely himself.

Alebbini, a citizen of Jordan and a U.S. legal permanent resident, was arrested by the FBI on April 26, 2017, at the Cincinnati/Kentucky International Airport, as he approached the TSA security checkpoint.

Alebbini waived his right to trial by jury, and the case proceeded to trial before the Court. The evidence at trial showed that at the time of his arrest, Alebbini had a ticket and boarding pass in hand for a flight to Amnan, Jordan, with a connection in Istanbul, Turkey. The evidence also showed that Alebbini intended to forego the flight to Jordan and instead make his way from Turkey into Syria to join ISIS.

According to court documents and testimony, on April 20, 2017, during a six-hour conversation with a friend who tried to talk Alebbini out of traveling and joining ISIS, Alebbini told his friend: “The Islamic State is fighting a survival war . . . I, cousin, want to go to be an inghimasi soldier.” 

As explained at trial, an “inghimasi soldier” is a particularly lethal type of suicide bomber – one who seeks to cause as much death and destruction as possible prior to detonation. 

On April 26, 2017, about one hour before Alebbini arrived at the Cincinnati/Kentucky International Airport, several relatives pleaded with Alebbini not to join ISIS.  Alebbini responded in three separate back-to-back text messages:  “Do you think I am a criminal”  “I am a terrorist”  “I am mujahid.”

U.S. Attorney Glassman and Assistant Attorney General Demers commended the investigation of this case by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes officers and agents from the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Greene County Sheriff’s Office, Oakwood Police Department, Dayton Police Department, Cincinnati Police Department, Colerain Police Department, Ohio State Highway Patrol, University of Cincinnati Police Department, U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, U.S. Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, West Chester Police Department, and Cincinnati State Police Department.

First Assistant Vipal J. Patel and Assistant U.S. Attorney Dominick S. Gerace of the Southern District of Ohio and Trial Attorney Justin Sher of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section prosecuted this case.