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.