Friday, November 29, 2019

Yemeni Man Detained on Charges of Lying to Joint Terrorism Task Force About Supporting Anti-American and Anti-Semitic Armed Insurgency

PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced that Gaafar Muhammed Ebrahim Al-Wazer, 25, of Altoona, PA, was ordered detained in federal custody on three counts of making false statements to Task Force Officers with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Philadelphia Joint Terrorism Task Force.

According to the Criminal Complaint filed against the defendant and the government’s motion to detain him, FBI counterterrorism investigators questioned Al-Wazer, a Yemeni citizen, on May 17, 2016 about his affiliation with the Houthi movement, known formally as Ansar Allah.  Ansar Allah is the armed rebel group that toppled Yemen’s government and fought in an ongoing civil war there for years.  Al-Wazer denied to the FBI that he was aligned with the Houthi movement, whose motto is “Allah is the greatest of all, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse upon the Jews, Victory to Islam,” and further denied that he had ever fired a weapon or participated in military or militia training.

To the contrary, however, the Complaint alleges that a search of Al-Wazer’s Facebook account revealed numerous postings and photographs in which he extolled and praised Ansar Allah, its objectives and its fighters who were killed in battle against the Yemeni government and its Saudi and U.S.-backed forces, and in which Al-Wazer was armed with automatic weapons (including a rocket-propelled grenade launcher).  Al-Wazer’s Facebook account included a posting of a photograph of him and others bearing automatic assault rifles and pledging that they would stay on the path of jihad and wishing death to the United States and Israel and victory to Islam.  In another posting, Al-Wazer again bears a machine gun in a photograph, which is accompanied by a pledge to Ansar Allah to the death.

FBI agents arrested Al-Wazer at his home in Altoona on November 7, 2019.  In federal court today, United States Magistrate Judge Marilyn Heffley found that the defendant posed a risk of flight and/or a danger to the community and therefore ordered him detained.

“The defendant was admitted to this country on a student visa and has availed himself of the generosity and the educational opportunities that the United States offers to students from all across the world,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain.  “Al-Wazer is, of course, entitled to hold and lawfully express his political and religious opinions as freely as anyone else in this country, no matter how hateful or odious they may be.  What he is not entitled to do, however, is lie about those beliefs when asked about them by counter-terrorism officers in the course of discharging their duties.  I want to thank our partners in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force for their continued vigilance.”

“Al-Wazer blatantly lied to federal agents and these charges are the consequence of his actions,” said Michael T. Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Division. “If people we speak to think there is no downside to deceiving FBI agents, critical lines of investigation will be compromised and our very justice system stalled. Our Joint Terrorism Task Force can't afford to be deterred in this way.”

If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum possible sentence of five years’ imprisonment, three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine, a $100 special assessment, per count.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Philadelphia Joint Terrorism Task Force, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Nelson S.T. Thayer, Jr.

An indictment, information or criminal complaint is an accusation.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Former Indiana Resident Pleads Guilty to Concealing Terrorism Financing

Samantha Marie Elhassani, aka Samantha Sally, 34, formerly of Elkhart, Indiana, pleaded guilty yesterday to a one-count Information charging her with concealment of terrorism financing in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2339C. Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana Thomas L. Kirsch II, FBI Assistant Director of the Counterterrorism Division Mike McGarrity, and FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Indianapolis field office Grant Mendenhall made the announcement.

“Elhassani admitted that she traveled overseas and pre-positioned over $30,000 in cash and gold, knowing that the funds would be used by her husband and brother-in-law to join and support ISIS in Syria,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “The National Security Division is committed to identifying and holding accountable those who support foreign terrorist organizations.  I want to thank the agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this result.”

“Samantha Elhassani pled guilty to providing financial support to individuals who desired to support ISIS, a terrorist organization that has committed acts of violence against Americans,” said U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II for the Northern District of Indiana.  “She traveled with her husband and brother-in-law to Syria, both of whom became ISIS fighters, putting the lives of her children at risk.  Yesterday’s guilty plea to federal terrorism charges reflects the seriousness of her criminal conduct.  My office is committed to prosecuting those who provide support to terrorist organizations. ”

"The charges that the defendant in this case has plead guilty to are a reminder the FBI will never relent in ensuring that Americans who abandon their country to further the heinous goals of a designated terrorist organization like ISIS see justice for their betrayal" said Assistant Director Mike McGarrity. "I am proud of the work of the FBI's Indianapolis Field Office on this case and grateful for the assistance of our many international and interagency partners."

“Ms Elhassani knowingly engaged in the concealment of resources which were intended to support future ISIS fighters whose intent is to harm her fellow Americans and others, and her plea should serve as a strong reminder that these actions have serious consequences and will not be tolerated,” said Special Agent in Charge Grant Mendenhall, FBI Indianapolis. “The defendant also exposed her young, impressionable children to an environment of hatred and violence with no regard to the harm she was causing them.”

In November 2014, Elhassani was informed by her husband that he and his brother wanted to travel to Syria to join ISIS, which she knew was a terrorist organization that engaged in terrorist activities. Between November 2014 and April 1015, Elhassani helped the two men join ISIS by making multiple trips to Hong Kong and transporting more than $30,000 in cash and gold from the United States and depositing it in a safe deposit box in Hong Kong. Elhassani melted down the gold to look like jewelry and did not disclose the cash and gold on customs declaration forms. At the time Elhassani transported the money and gold, she knew that her husband and brother-in-law had expressed an interest in joining ISIS and that they intended to use these resources to support ISIS.

In July of 2018, Elhassani was transferred from the custody of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to U.S. law enforcement custody.

U.S. District Judge Philip P. Simon presided over the plea hearing and set sentencing for March 5, 2020.

The case was investigated by the FBI’s Indianapolis Division and Joint Terrorism Task Force. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Indiana and the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

South Florida Resident Arrested For Soliciting Another to Commit a Violent Crime against College Deans

MIAMI - Salman Rashid, 23, of North Miami Beach, Florida, was arrested in South Florida based on a criminal complaint charging him with soliciting another person to commit a crime of violence.

Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security;  and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Field Office made the announcement.

According to court documents, the FBI initiated an investigation of Rashid in approximately April 2018 after reviewing his public Facebook posts, which advocated for the violent overthrow of democracy and the establishment of Islamic law. In May 2019, and without provocation, Rashid solicited a confidential human source to contact members of ISIS and instruct those ISIS members to conduct a terrorist attack on Rashid’s behalf. Throughout the summer and fall of 2019, Rashid continued to instruct the confidential source regarding Rashid’s requested attack, indicating an attack on a religious building or nightclub would be suitable. Based on Rashid’s request, the FBI introduced an additional confidential human source, who held him/herself out to be a member of ISIS willing to conduct an attack.

Ultimately, on or about November 8-9, 2019, Rashid chose two individuals to target - a dean at Miami-Dade College and a dean at Broward College, two colleges from which Rashid had been suspended or expelled – and asked that explosive devices placed by the confidential human source to carry out the attack against the two individuals be as big as possible. Rashid provided information about the locations to place the devices and his assessment of security that might be present at the colleges.

Rashid had his initial appearance today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Chris M. McAliley (Case No. 19-mj-3916-Becerra).  If convicted, Rashid faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Rashid’s pretrial detention hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, November 27, 2019 at 10 a.m. and his arraignment is scheduled for December 9, 2019.

A criminal complaint is a charging document containing allegations.  The defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan and Assistant Attorney General Demers commended the investigative efforts of the FBI in this matter.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Thakur and Senior Litigation Counsel Randy Hummel of the Southern District of Florida with assistance from Trial Attorney Danielle Rosborough of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.