Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Statement by Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen on the Pakistani Proceedings Relating to the Abduction and Murder of Daniel Pearl

 Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen has released the following statement:

“We understand that Pakistani authorities are taking steps to ensure that Omar Sheikh remains in custody while the Supreme Court appeal seeking to reinstate his conviction continues.  The separate judicial rulings reversing his conviction and ordering his release are an affront to terrorism victims everywhere.  We remain grateful for the Pakistani government’s actions to appeal such rulings to ensure that he and his co-defendants are held accountable.  If, however, those efforts do not succeed, the United States stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial here.  We cannot allow him to evade justice for his role in Daniel Pearl’s abduction and murder.”

Monday, December 21, 2020

Former Senior Libyan Intelligence Officer and Bomb-Maker for the Muamar Qaddafi Regime Charged for The December 21, 1988 Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103

 Today, Attorney General William Barr, Director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers, and Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Michael Sherwin, announced new charges against a former Libyan intelligence operative, Abu Agela Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, aka, “Hasan Abu Ojalya Ibrahim” (Masud), for his role in building the bomb that killed 270 individuals in the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988.

“I would like to publicly and personally express my deepest thanks to the Lord Advocate of Scotland, James Wolffe, QC, for the tireless efforts of his dedicated prosecutors from The Crown Office and investigators from Police Scotland.  These charges are the product of decades of hard work by investigators and prosecutors who have remained resolute in their dogged pursuit of justice for our citizens, the citizens of the United Kingdom, and the citizens of the other 19 countries that were murdered by terrorists operating on behalf of the former Muamar Qaddafi regime when they attacked Pan Am Flight 103,” said William P. Barr, Attorney General of the United States.  “As to all the victims and the families, we cannot take away your pain from your loss, but we can seek justice for you. Our message to other terrorists around the world is this – you will not succeed – if you attack Americans, no matter where you are, no matter how long it takes, you will be pursued to the ends of the earth until justice is done.”

“Today’s announcement should remind the world that when Americans are harmed, the FBI and the United States government will never stop pursuing justice for our citizens, no matter where that takes us, how long it takes us to get there, or how difficult the road might be,” said FBI Director Chris Wray.  “Without the thoroughness and professionalism of our FBI personnel, the Department of Justice, our Scottish partners, and the people of Lockerbie, we never would have found the trail that led us to the men responsible for this attack.  We will never forget the loved ones who were lost, and we remain committed to continuing our work to achieve justice for the victims and their families.”

“Today’s unsealing of criminal charges in the Pan Am 103 case is monumental on several fronts,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Michael R. Sherwin for the District of Columbia.  “First, the criminal complaint against the alleged ‘bomb maker’ signifies that the work of federal prosecutors never ends, even after several decades, until all criminal actors are held accountable.  In addition, these charges remind the public of the horrific effect that acts of terrorism continue to have on victims and their families.  The bombing of Pan Am 103 was historic in that it was, until the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the largest terrorist attack on U.S. civilians in history.  It also remains the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of the United Kingdom – for all of these reasons we will never forget and the D.C. United States Attorney’s Office will continue to seek justice for all of the Pan Am 103 victims and their loved ones.” 

December 21, 1988

Pan Am Flight 103 exploded into pieces almost instantaneously when a bomb in the forward cargo area exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, at 7:03 p.m. local time at an altitude of 31,000 feet after 38 minutes of flight.  The plane had taken off from London-Heathrow and was en route to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. 

Citizens from 21 countries were killed, of that number 190 Americans perished, including 35 Syracuse University students as they were returning home to the United States for the holidays after a semester studying abroad.  43 victims were from the United Kingdom, including 11 residents of Lockerbie, Scotland, who perished on the ground as fiery debris from the falling aircraft destroyed an entire city block where homes had peacefully stood just minutes earlier.  This international terrorist attack, planned by and executed by Libyan intelligence operatives, was considered the largest terrorist attack on both the United States and the United Kingdom before the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.   

Immediately after the disaster, Scottish and American law enforcement undertook a joint investigation that was unprecedented in its scope, and in November 1991, it led to criminal charges in both countries, charging two Libyan intelligence operatives, Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi (Megrahi) and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah (Fhimah) with their roles in the bombing. 

The criminal complaint filed today charges Masud with destruction of an aircraft resulting in death, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 32(a)(1) and (a)(2), as well as destruction of a vehicle by means of an explosive resulting in death, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(i).  The charges in criminal complaints are merely allegations, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Criminal Complaint Allegations

According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, the External Security Organization (ESO) was the Libyan intelligence service through which Libya conducted acts of terrorism against other nations and repressed the activities of Libyan dissidents abroad.  Masud worked in various capacities for the ESO, including as a technical expert in building explosive devices from approximately 1973 to 2011.    

According to the affidavit, Masud participated in the “Lockerbie airplane bombing,” among other plots against the United States and the west, including but not limited to, the April 5, 1986, bombing of the LaBelle Discotheque in West Berlin, Germany.  Two U.S. service members were killed in that attack and scores of others left seriously injured or permanently disabled.  

Planning and Executing the Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103

According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, in the winter of 1988, Masud was summoned by a Libyan intelligence official to meet at that official’s office in Tripoli, Libya, where he was directed to fly to Malta with a prepared suitcase.  He did so, where he was met by Megrahi and Fhimah at the airport.  After Masud spent approximately three or four days in the hotel, Megrahi and Fhimah instructed Masud to set the timer on the device in the suitcase for the following morning, so that the explosion would occur exactly eleven hours later. 

According to the affidavit, the suitcase used by Masud was a medium-sized Samsonite suitcase that he used for traveling.  Megrahi and Fhimah were both at the airport on the morning of Dec. 21, 1988, and Masud handed the suitcase to Fhimah after Fhimah gave him a signal to do so.  Fhimah then placed the suitcase on the conveyor belt.  Masud then left.  He was given a boarding pass for a Libyan flight to Tripoli, which was to take off at 9:00 a.m.

Three or four days after returning to Libya, Masud and Megrahi met with a senior Libyan intelligence official, who thanked them for a successful operation.  Approximately three months after that, Masud and Fhimah met with Qaddafi, and others, who thanked them for carrying out a great national duty against the Americans, and Qaddafi added that the operation was a total success. 

Of the 270 lost in the bombing, 190 were Americans on the aircraft.  Forty-three from the United Kingdom were lost, including eleven lives on the ground in Lockerbie.  The remaining victims were from the following countries: Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Trinidad and Tobago.  The Department of Justice expresses its profound appreciation to the Scottish government as well as its dedicated commitment to seeking justice for all the victims of the alleged crimes.  

Investigative Team

The United States side of the joint investigative team is led by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, along with prosecutors from the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, and the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.  There are many agents from the FBI and prosecutors from the Department who have worked on this case over the years. 

Contact Information

Victims of this crime and their families can contact the Department of Justice via e-mail at USADC.PanAm103@usdoj.gov, or by telephone at +1 (202) 252-7045.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Kenyan National Indicted for Conspiring to Hijack Aircraft on Behalf of the Al Qaeda-Affiliated Terrorist Organization Al Shabaab

 Cholo Abdi Abdullah Obtained Pilot Training and Researched How to Hijack Aircraft in Order to Conduct a 9/11-Style Attack at the Direction of al Shabaab

The Department of Justice announced the unsealing of an indictment charging Cholo Abdi Abdullah with six counts of terrorism-related offenses arising from his activities as an operative of the foreign terrorist organization al Shabaab, including conspiring to hijack aircraft in order to conduct a 9/11-style attack in the United States.  Abdullah was arrested in July 2019 in the Philippines on local charges, and was subsequently transferred on Dec. 15, 2020 in connection with his deportation from the Philippines to the custody of U.S. law enforcement for prosecution on the charges in the indictment.  Abdullah was transported from the Phillippines to the United States yesterday, and is expected to be presented today before Magistrate Judge Robert W. Lehrburger in Manhattan federal court.  The case is assigned to United States District Judge Analisa Torres.

“This case, which involved a plot to use an aircraft to kill innocent victims, reminds us of the deadly threat that radical Islamic terrorists continue to pose to our nation.  And it also highlights our commitment to pursue and hold accountable anybody who seeks to harm our country and our citizens.  No matter where terrorists who plan to target Americans may be located, we will seek to identify them and bring them to justice,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “We owe a debt of gratitude to the detectives, agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this defendant’s arrest.”

“Today’s announcement shows that foreign terrorist organizations, like al Shabaab, remain determined to plot, plan, and conspire to commit terrorist acts across the globe against the United States, our interests and our foreign partners,” said FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Jill Sanborn.  “Let there be no doubt that the FBI and our law enforcement colleagues, and in this case specifically those in the Philippines and Kenya, will not stop in our mission to hold terrorists accountable for their actions.  The charges announced today against Cholo Abdi Abdullah eerily draws parallels to the heinous attacks on this country on September 11, 2001.  The FBI, along with our U.S. Government and international partners, will continue to be in lockstep against terrorism and will not allow the safety or security of the public to be threatened – no matter where in the world it may be or whomever is responsible.” 

 “As alleged, Cholo Abdi Abdullah, as part of a terrorist plot directed by senior al Shabaab leaders, obtained pilot training in the Philippines in preparation for seeking to hijack a commercial aircraft and crash it into a building in the United States,” said Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss.  “This chilling callback to the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, is a stark reminder that terrorist groups like al Shabaab remain committed to killing U.S. citizens and attacking the United States.  But we remain even more resolute in our dedication to investigating, preventing, and prosecuting such lethal plots, and will use every tool in our arsenal to stop those who would commit acts of terrorism at home and abroad.  Thanks to the outstanding investigative work of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, and the FBI’s global partnerships with law enforcement agencies around the world, Abdullah’s plot was detected before he could achieve his deadly aspirations, and now he faces federal terrorism charges in a U.S. court.”

 “Nearly 20 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there are those who remain determined to conduct terror attacks against United States citizens. Abdullah, we allege, is one of them,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. “He obtained a pilot’s license overseas, learning how to hijack an aircraft for the purpose of causing a mass-casualty incident within our borders. Fortunately, the exceptional work by the men and women assigned to the many agencies that comprise the FBI’s New York JTTF have, once again, disrupted a threat to our communities.”

 “As alleged in the federal indictment against him, Cholo Abdi Abdullah had obtained pilot training and begun plotting a terrorist attack against a target in the United States,” said NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea.  “But the outstanding work of our NYPD detectives and federal agents of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, along with all of our law enforcement partners, put an end to those plans and ensured that no one would be harmed.”

As alleged in the Indictment,[1] unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:

The charges in the Indictment unsealed today arise out of a coordinated scheme by the terrorist organization Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, commonly known as “al Shabaab,” to target Americans both at home and abroad.  Al Shabaab, which has sworn allegiance to al Qaeda and serves as al Qaeda’s principal wing in East Africa, is responsible for numerous deadly terrorist attacks, including attacks that have claimed American lives.  Recently, al Shabaab has embarked on a string of terrorist attacks as part of an operation purportedly in response to the United States’ decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which the group has dubbed “Operation Jerusalem Will Never be Judaized.”  In particular, these terrorist attacks perpetrated by al Shabaab include an attack on Jan. 15, 2019, at a hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 21 people, including a U.S. national and survivor of al Qaeda’s 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York, New York; a Sept. 30, 2019, attack on a U.S. military facility in Somalia; and a Jan. 5, 2020, attack on another U.S. facility in Kenya, in which three Americans were killed.    

As alleged in the Indictment, Abdullah was an al Shabaab operative who participated in a plot to hijack commercial aircraft and crash them into a building in the United States.  Beginning in 2016, at the direction of a senior al Shabaab commander who was responsible for, among other things, planning the 2019 Nairobi hotel attack, Abdullah traveled to the Philippines and enrolled in a flight school there (the “Flight School”), for the purpose of obtaining training for carrying out the 9/11-style attack.  Between 2017 and 2019, Abdullah attended the Flight School on various occasions and obtained pilot’s training, ultimately completing the tests necessary to obtain his pilot’s license. 

While Abdullah was obtaining pilot training at the Flight School, he also conducted research into the means and methods to hijack a commercial airliner to conduct the planned attack, including security on commercial airliners and how to breach a cockpit door from the outside, information about the tallest building in a major U.S. city, and information about how to obtain a U.S. visa.

Thanks to the extraordinary work of the FBI, law enforcement authorities foiled this plot.  Abdullah has remained in custody since his arrest on the local charges in the Philippines.

Abdullah, 30, of Kenya, is charged with conspiring to provide and providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization (al Shabaab), conspiring to murder U.S. nationals, conspiring to commit aircraft piracy, conspiring to destroy aircraft, and conspiring to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries.  Abdullah faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, and a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.  The specific penalties for each of the charges is reflected in the chart below.  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.

Assistant Attorney General Demers and Ms. Strauss 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. They also thanked the FBI Hudson Valley office and the New York State Police.  Ms. Strauss also thanked the FBI Legal Attaché Offices in Nairobi, Kenya, and Manila, the Philippines; the Counterterrorism Section of the Department of Justice’s National Security Division; the Office of International Affairs of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division; the U.S. Department of Defense; “...the Kenyan Directorate of Criminal Investigations, the Kenyan Anti-Terrorism Police Unit, the Joint Terrorism Task Force-Kenya, and the Kenyan Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions; and the Philippine National Police, Philippine Department of Justice, the Joint Terrorism Financial Investigations Group - Philippines, and Philippine Bureau of Immigration, for their assistance.

This prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys David W. Denton, Jr., Sidhardha Kamaraju, and Elinor Tarlow are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance from the Counterterrorism Section of the National Security Division.

The charges in the Indictment 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 Indictment and the description of the Indictment set forth herein are only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Centcom Commander: Middle East Refugee Camps Rife for Extreme Ideology

 Dec. 11, 2020 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

The consequences of not tackling the problem of Middle Eastern internally displaced persons and refugees is going to produce enormous long-term extremism for the region and the world, the commander of U.S. Central Command said.

A man in a military uniform briefs reporters.

Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. made his remarks virtually today at the Defense One Annual Outlook Summit.
The general said the United States has two critical interests in the Centcom area of responsibility: first, maintaining and improving security and stability of the region, including the freedom of navigation; and second, eliminating the terrorist threat to the homeland, which emanates from the region.
And with the terrorist threat comes internally displaced persons who seek shelter and safety in refugee camps.
"Today across the Centcom region, wherever you find conflict, you'll find internally displaced persons, and you'll find refugees who fled violence wherever you find IDPs," he said. 
The commander also said, one will find distress and suffering where local communities often bear the brunt of supporting IDPs for years on end. 
While coalition donors and international relief organizations provide tremendous support to large IDP and refugee populations in the region, long-term solutions remain elusive as long as the underlying conflicts continue, he noted. 

Two men in military uniforms converse while walking.

"Beyond the suffering of the human soul, there's the potential for IDP and refugee camps to become fertile ground for the propagation of radical ideologies," the general emphasized. 
Large camps in Syria, in particular, have become areas of systemic indoctrination of IDPs and refugees who are hostages to the receipt of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria ideology. 
"This is a larger strategic problem, and it's not going to be addressed by military means," McKenzie said. 
Instead, what's required is global resources, along with regional and local government commitment to resolve the repatriation of foreign fighters and families and the reintegration of IDPs, he said. 
Refugees living in their home communities are in the best interest of the international community, the Centcom commander said. 
"Unless we find a way to do this, a way to repatriate and reintegrate [IDPs] into home communities and support reconciliation solutions for conflict victims — many of whom have been living in traumatic and challenging circumstances — we're buying ourselves a strategic problem 10 years down the road when these children grow up and become radicalized," McKenzie emphasized. 

A man in a Marine Corps uniform tours a ship.

If the problem of IDPs isn't addressed now, he said, "we're never going to really defeat ISIS or the many other extremist ideologies in the region. The ideology will continue well into the next generation. And we're going to have to do this all over again. And that's not a prospect that I'm actually comfortable with." 
"[The problem] won't be solved by this combatant command. It won't be solved by the Department of Defense, and it's not going to be solved by the United States alone. But … If we don't act, we're going to pay a heavy price down the road," McKenzie said.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Federal Jury Convicts Illinois Man for Bombing the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center

 Yesterday, a federal jury returned a guilty verdict against Micheal Hari, 49, for his role in the bombing of the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, on Aug. 5, 2017. 

Following a three week trial, the jury convicted Hari on all five counts of the indictment, including intentionally defacing, damaging, and destroying any religious real property because of the religious character of that property; intentionally obstructing, and attempting to obstruct, by force and the threat of force, the free exercise of religious beliefs; conspiracy to commit federal felonies by means of fire and explosives; carrying and using a destructive device during and in relation to crimes of violence; and possession of an unregistered destructive device. Hari faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison.

“I commend the outstanding efforts of the trial team from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI, which tried this case with support from the Civil Rights Division. The jury’s verdict confirms the fundamental principle that every person in this country has the right to exercise religion free from violence and fear,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “We are grateful for our law enforcement partners on this case and are pleased to see justice being carried out.”

“Michael Hari’s goal in bombing the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center was to spread hatred, instill fear, and threaten the constitutionally protected right to freedom of religion. This act of violence, driven by hatred and ignorance, shook our community,” said U.S. Attorney Erica H. MacDonald for the Distirct of Minnesota. “This guilty verdict represents a condemnation of that hatred and upholds our fundamental right to live and worship free from the threat of violence and discrimination. I am sincerely grateful to the Assistant U.S. Attorneys and the FBI special agents who, over several years, have remained steadfast in their pursuit of justice.”

As proven at trial, during the summer of 2017, Hari established in Clarence, Illinois, a terrorist militia group called “The White Rabbits.” Hari recruited several men, including co-defendants Michael McWhorter and Joe Morris, to join the militia group, which he outfitted with tactical vests and assault rifles. On Aug. 4 and 5, 2017, Hari, McWhorter, and Morris drove in a rented pickup truck from Clarence to Bloomington, Minnesota, with the mission of bombing the Dar al-Farooq (DAF) Islamic Center. Hari targeted DAF in an attempt to scare Muslims into believing they are not welcome in the United States and should leave the country.

As proven at trial, Hari, McWhorter and Morris arrived at DAF on Aug. 5, 2017, at approximately 5:00 a.m. Morris used a sledgehammer to break a window, which was part of DAF’s Imam’s office, and threw a plastic container containing diesel fuel and gasoline mixture into the building. McWhorter then lit the fuse on a 10-pound black powder pipe bomb that Hari had built and threw it through the broken window. McWhorter and Morris ran back to the truck, where Hari was waiting in the driver’s seat. The three men sped away from the building and drove back to Clarence. When the pipe bomb exploded, it ignited the mixture in the plastic container, causing extensive fire and smoke damage to the Imam’s office, in addition to water damage caused by the building’s sprinkler system. At the time of the bombing, several congregants were gathered in the mosque for morning prayers.

On Jan. 24, 2019, McWhorter and Morris pleaded guilty to their roles in the bombing.

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the FBI.

U.S. Attorney MacDonald thanks Assistant U.S. Attorneys John F. Docherty, Allison Ethen and Timothy C. Rank, who tried this case with assistance from Lead Paralegal Specialist Lynette Simser, Witness Specialist Jeffery Knopps, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie E. Allyn, Trial Attorney Tim Visser from the Civil Rights Division, and the Special Agents of the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office. Their hard work and commitment to the pursuit of justice made this result possible. 

Friday, December 04, 2020

Somalia Force Posture Announcement

 Dec. 4, 2020

The President of the United States has ordered the Department of Defense and the United States Africa Command to reposition the majority of personnel and assets out of Somalia by early 2021. 

The U.S. is not withdrawing or disengaging from Africa. We remain committed to our African partners and enduring support through a whole-of-government approach. 

While a change in force posture, this action is not a change in U.S. policy. We will continue to degrade violent extremist organizations that could threaten our homeland while ensuring we maintain our strategic advantage in great power competition. 

As a result of this decision, some forces may be reassigned outside of East Africa. However, the remaining forces will be repositioned from Somalia into neighboring countries in order to allow cross-border operations by both U.S. and partner forces to maintain pressure against violent extremist organizations operating in Somalia.

The U.S. will retain the capability to conduct targeted counterterrorism operations in Somalia, and collect early warnings and indicators regarding threats to the homeland.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

DOD Identifies Air Force Casualty


The Department of Defense announced today the death of an Airman who was supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

Captain Kelliann Leli, 30, of Parlin, New Jersey, died November 27 in a non-combat related vehicle incident at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. The cause of the incident is under investigation.

She was assigned to the 60th Healthcare Operations Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, California.  For more information, media may contact the 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs office at 707-290-1169.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Sussex County Woman Charged with Concealing Terrorist Financing to Syrian Al-Nusra Front, a Foreign Terrorist Organization

 A Sussex County, New Jersey, woman, Maria Bell, a/k/a “Maria Sue Bell,” 53, of Hopatcong, New Jersey, was arrested at her home today and charged with one count of knowingly concealing the provision of material support and resources to a Foreign Terrorist Organization Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers and U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito for the District of New Jersey announced.

She is scheduled to appear by videoconference this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor.

According to documents filed in Court, beginning at least as early as March of 2017, Bell used mobile applications to communicate with and provide advice to fighters based in Syria who were members of various factions fighting the Assad regime.   The complaint is centered on her communications with, and provision of money to, one specific fighter based in Syria, a self-identified member of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alias for the the designated Foreign Terrorist Organization the al-Nusra Front (ANF).  Notably, Bell sent currency to this fighter via Western Union using an intermediary to conceal the source of the funds, and also provided him advice on weapons and ammunition. 

The charge of concealment of terrorist financing to a designated foreign terrorist organization carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Assistant Attorney General Demers and U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. in Newark, with the investigation leading to today’s charges.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Dean C. Sovolos of the U.S. Attorney’s Office National Security Unit with the assistance of the Department of Justice, National Security Division Counterterrorism Section.

The charge and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

South Carolina Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Provide Material Support to ISIS

 In San Antonio today, 34-year-old Kristopher Sean Matthews (aka Ali Jibreel) admitted to conspiring to provide material support to the designated foreign terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham/Syria (aka ISIS), announced Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney Gregg N. Sofer for the Western District of Texas, and FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs, San Antonio Division.

Appearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth S. Chestney, Matthews pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge to provide material support to ISIS.  By pleading guilty, Matthews admitted that since May 2019, he conspired with 22-year-old Jaylyn Christopher Molina (aka Abdur Rahim) of Cost, TX, to share bomb-making information for the purposes of domestic and foreign attacks on behalf of ISIS and to radicalize and recruit other individuals to support ISIS.

Matthews faces up to 20 years in federal prison.  He remains in federal custody pending sentencing scheduled for 10:30 am on March 4, 2021, before Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia in San Antonio.

Molina and Matthews were charged by a federal grand jury indictment handed down on Oct. 14, 2020, with one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization and one substantive count of providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.  Molina, who remains in federal custody, faces up to 40 years in federal prison upon conviction.

The San Antonio FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), with valuable assistance from the San Antonio Police Department, the United States Secret Service, and the Gonzalez County Sheriff’s Office, continues to investigate this case.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark Roomberg, William R. Harris, and Eric Fuchs and DOJ Trial Attorneys George Kraehe and Felice J. Viti of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section are prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.

It is important to note that an indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt.  Molina is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Senior Defense Officials Provide Background Briefing on Afghanistan and Iraq Troop Reductions

 Nov. 17, 2020

Three Senior Defense Officials

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Hey, everybody. It's -- it's SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1 here. I have with me SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 3 and SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2. We're going to go through and -- and -- and SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2 is going to give some brief remarks here. 

Once again, this is on background to "senior defense official," embargoed until the conclusion of the acting secretary's remarks, which as you're all aware of, start at 14:00, following this. We will leave the line open for you guys to -- to do that, if you’re coming into the building or will be in the building for it. Seating is -- is somewhat limited, but we'll be able to get some time to transition to that.

So we have -- right now, I think we -- we have about 50-60 reporters on. I'll call the questions afterwards. I'm assuming we may want to open it to as many questions as we can, but obviously, we're a little tight on time here, so I apologize, but we do want to give you guys a chance to ask questions.

So with that, I will turn it over to SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Thanks. Thanks very much. I appreciate you -- you, SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1, and your team's efforts here. And thanks to everybody for taking the time to focus on this incredibly important policy matter and national security matter on behalf of Secretary Miller and obviously, the President.

So, as you guys have been hearing rumblings, we are going to be announcing a decision at 14:00 today that will be consistent with the President's publicly-announced engagements regarding this matter, going back to multiple years, but most recently, in June where he publicly announced that based on his continuous interaction with his national security cabinet and his military officials, that should certain conditions be satisfied and the safety and security of America not be threatened, then the president has been very focused and public about withdrawing some troops out of both Afghanistan and Iraq.

And so if we fast-forward over to you today, over the last week, 10 days, since Secretary Miller and I have been in the office, we would say our internal transition here has been exceptionally well-received because of the senior staff that have been working here, along with all the military officials. And so we are continued on the trajectory laid out by the president and his national security cabinet. We've engaged with him directly at the White House since coming on to the seat. And so we are making an announcement that's consistent with his promise to the American people, and also, most importantly, that comes at the recommendation of the senior-most military officials based on the security interests both in Afghanistan and Iraq. And now that the President has arrived at a decision, the secretary will announce that decision, and we'll go from there. Over.

And so for clarity, and as SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1 said, on embargo until the secretary is done with his comments. So the decision that the secretary will announce is that in Afghanistan, we will reduce our troops to 2,500 by 15 January, 2021. And the second announcement is that we will go down to 2,500 troops in Iraq, also by 15 January, 2021.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: OK. All right, so we'll stop there, and we'll go to the phone for questions. So first, Bob Burns, A.P.

Q: Oh, thank you. This is Bob. SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2, you said this is based on recommendations from senior military officials, and so are you saying that these reductions were recommended by General Miller and/or General McKenzie and/or General Milley? And also, what necessary conditions have been satisfied that you said the president would require?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Thank you. So I'm not going to get into specifics as to which senior military officials have conferred with the President and the secretary of defense and national security advisor and Secretary Pompeo and others. Needless to say, we have a national command authority. That has not been ruptured since the transition internally. The secretary of defense has continued to engage with all of his combatant commanders, including the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President, the White House and other officials. And this was a collaborative decision that the president made based upon guidance from all these commanders both in the field, here in Washington, and career officials both at the White House and here at the Pentagon. Over.

Q: What about the conditions on the ground? You said that they've been satisfied. How so?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: So the conditions-based portion of this is a determination made similarly by those individuals we just generally talked about that, first and foremost, is the national security of America threatened by this maneuver, by this decision, and we do not feel that it is. And second, can we maintain a force posture in Afghanistan that permits us to carry out our mission with our allies and partners whom we've all talked to over the last week and this morning, and the answer to that is affirmatively, yes, we can. So those two questions being answered, those were underlied by the specific conditions, which I'm not going to get into, but the professionals both in the military and civilian service have agreed that this is the right move, and they've recommended that to the President, and the President has made his decision.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: All right, Bob, thank you. We'll go over to Ryan Browne, CNN.

Q: Yes, thank you. The fact is that al Qaeda – the Taliban hasn't broken clearly with al Qaeda, and that al Qaeda still has a presence in Afghanistan, but you're still reducing the number of troops. I guess, how do you square that? And then also, will the remaining U.S. troops will be allowed to carry out air strikes in defense of Afghan forces? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Sure. So as far as al Qaeda being in Afghanistan, al Qaeda has been in Afghanistan for decades, and the reality is we'd be fools to say they're going to leave tomorrow. What has to happen in Afghanistan, and the President's been very clear on this, as have other members of his national security cabinet, the solution in Afghanistan is to broker a power-sharing or some form of agreement whereby the two, the Taliban and the Afghan people, can live side-by-side in peace. One is not going to militarily defeat the other, nor are we going to engage in a decades-long war to that end, which we will not meet. So we feel this is the best decision to drive towards the peace agreement that we've been working on, and so we think that this supports that and those efforts. 

And as to your second question, in terms of specific capabilities, I won't get into, but the military officials that we've engaged with in the national security cabinet believe that our capabilities will remain sufficient to achieve both of our goals, which is the protection of the American people and also the protection of the Afghan people and also to assist our allies and partners, who support this decision. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: All right, guys, we're going to keep moving along, try to get to as many people as we can. Phil Stewart, Reuters? 

Q: Real quick, I didn’t hear Somalia. Is there going to be an announcement on Somalia? And then on the issue of Afghanistan, what is the exact mission of the 2,500 troops that will remain there? Will it be strictly counterterrorism? Thanks. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: So Phil, this is SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1. We have no announcement on Somalia. We have announcements today on Iraq and Afghanistan. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Thanks. And as it relates to, again, you're asking for the specifics of the mission. The dynamics of the mission have not changed. The military officials and the president's national security cabinet believe that the number of troops that we will go to by 15 January, 2,500, can accomplish everything we have been doing, so there's no need to keep the force posture at over 4,000, where it currently stands. 

So there was no elimination of capabilities. And on top of that, should there be a fracturing event or a dynamic situation in Afghanistan, both the secretary of defense and the president feel that we are well postured to augment our posture in Afghanistan, should it need be done. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: We'll keep moving. Jennifer Griffin, Fox News? 


My question is, are the talks with the Taliban over and why not go to zero in Afghanistan? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: The talks with the Taliban was made, I think, public last week are still very much ongoing. Meetings in Doha, meetings in-country by our military officials including General Scotty Miller and others, so that has not changed and we don't believe the trajectory of that will change. That is our goal, is the peace deal. 

And I think the second part of your question is why not go to, did you say, zero? 

Q: Yes. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: At this point, we are not going to zero because we are continuing on the president's approach, which he announced in June, which is to reduce troops to the number necessary to carry out the mission. And the generals and the civilian professionals believe that 2,500 is the best number. The president agrees and executed that decision. 

STAFF: All right, Dan Lamothe, Washington Post? 


We've reported that Secretary Esper, before he departed, submitted a memo recommending against additional cuts. That was citing senior military officials at the time. Can you explain the difference, how we got from point A to point B? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: We're not going to comment on any memo which you may or may not have in your possession for obvious reasons. 

Q: As you're casting this as a recommendation from generals, it just seemed like there’s a contradiction there. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: There is no contradiction with the president and his national security cabinet. There is no contradiction with the president and the secretary of defense, and the decision was made in consultation with him along with the vice president and his senior-most military advisors in the region and here in Washington. 

So as for the current state of play, there is no contradiction and we will have no comment on whatever memo you may or may not have. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: All right, thanks, Dan. 

We'll keep moving along, Luis Martinez? 

Q: Thank you again for this briefing. When were these options presented to the President and when did Acting Secretary Miller, when was he briefed on them and when did he decide that this was the course of action based on what the recommendation had been from the military? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: So in terms of when the president and others were briefed on this, as I said earlier, this has been a continuing iterative process. There wasn't a day yesterday or the week before that we just woke up and said this is what we're going to do. 

The President announced in June a reduction of troops, and then he also, at that time, said we would do a further troop reduction, should his national security official cabinet determine that we have achieved a certain position for safety and security of the American people and the Afghan people. So that's the trajectory we've been on, nothing has changed, the president issued his decision. 

In terms of Secretary Miller's position, as you know, his background as former director of the National Counterterrorism Center and before that as a deputy assistant secretary of defense here at the Pentagon, he has been well versed in following matters in Afghanistan involving both the war and the counterterrorism efforts. 

So he was obviously briefed by all the relevant officials and commanding generals when he assumed the post here, but that was again a continuation of his deep background on the matter, and he and the President and others had extensive conversations coming in before making this decision. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: All right, we’ll keep – keep moving along. Kasim Ilari? 

Q: Thank you very much for this. I was wondering, has the White House officially sent a guidance or notification for the withdrawal or not? And when did it arrive? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Kassim, do you mean military guidance within the U.S. government or outside of the U.S. government? 

Q: Within the military, U.S. military. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Ok, fair question. I'm not going to get into the internal dynamics of how that occurs, but the President made a decision through the normal course of the interagency process. That decision was communicated to the Department of Defense, and the secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs will execute that decision, as you'll see once we do the announcement at 14:00.


Q: Going to defer to my fine colleagues, thanks. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: OK. We'll keep going. Nancy Youssef, Wall Street Journal? 

Q: Thanks. I have two questions. You mentioned earlier that you talked to NATO allies, have any of them mentioned a proportionate drawdown of their forces? And if so, from what country? 

Also, what discussions have you had with the Afghan government? When were they informed of this decision? 

And can you give any guidance in terms of why, given the reduction in forces in Iraq, what effect if any that will have on Syria, what considerations remain for any possible drawdowns in Syria? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Thanks very much, I'll try to answer all those questions, I'll probably forget the last one by the time I get through them. 

So in terms of communications with allies and partners, since Secretary Miller has been in the seat, we have been reaching out on a daily basis to all of our allies and partners including NATO, General Stoltenberg, and our most important allies and partners in the region for Afghanistan, so that has been a continuous ongoing conversation.

I won't get into the details of that, but I will say that it was not a surprise to any of our allies or partners, this decision, and none of them tried to dissuade us from executing this decision. Rather, they were all supportive of how we can, in a collaborative effort, continue the mission that we have in Afghanistan, which I think leads us to believe we made the right choice because not a single one said otherwise. 

We also talked to many heads of state including both in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we could not have been more warmly received when we had these discussions with both their leadership at the presidential and prime ministerial level. 

And I think you had one other question...

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Nancy, you have another question? 

Q: I was just asking about Syria and whether there's any defense ministerials, and what effect the draw-downs in Iraq could have on operations in Syria.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: So as to the impact of the decision for the draw-down in Iraq in Syria, the military officials and the combatant commanders in the theater do not see a negative impact for our posture in Syria, and that was a large part of the decision-making process for us to go to that number, because if they felt otherwise, that it would negatively impact our efforts in Syria, we would not have drawn down to that number.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: OK. And just to follow up on the conversations with heads of state, o this morning, the acting secretary spent most of this morning today calling through some of our NATO allies, some of our Resolute Support mission partners and as SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2 mentioned, Iraq and Afghanistan governments. He additionally spent a good bit of time this morning calling through congressional partners, talking with House and Senate leadership, as well as committee leadership to -- to give them a heads-up on the decision, and to seek their input and feedback, as well. So that's been taking place today. We've been doing the contact and -- and doing the process that we normally do if we're making announcements like this.

All right, so we'll keep going. We'll try to get a couple more before we've got to drop off here. So we'll go to Paul Handley, AFP?

Q: Hi, yes. You said that if there's a fracturing event, the posture could be augmented. What do you see would be a fracturing event? That the Taliban would take advantage of this and step up violence? 

And secondly, in fact, the Defense Department IG has reported that the violence levels are up. So how can you say that conditions have actually been met for drawing down to 2,500?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: So thanks for the question. So notto get in front of either the President, the chairman or the secretary of defense. The Department of Defense is set up to respond globally to events based on the conditions on the ground. We will not set a baseline as to if this happens, we will do "Y". But we can commit to you and the American public that the President, through his national command authority, are well-postured in the region and around the world to react, should that become necessary. So we will take that as a case-by-case basis.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: And I'll take the second part. I believe you're asking about the SIGAR report. You know, I'm not going to characterize the findings of the SIGAR report, but would say that we've been clear that we would like to see reduced levels of violence in Afghanistan. We would like to see progress on the peace talks, and we're seeing that in both cases. But what we also see is it's not just the U.S. presence, the U.S. forces, that there are Afghan forces that are becoming more capable in the area. We've got partners there. So we're looking at this as a whole, not just as one piece of data that comes from one specific report.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: All right, we'll keep going. Go to Tara Copp from McClatchy.

Q: My question would be, who is actually going to come home? Do you have an idea of what units might be re-deploying to the U.S.?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: In terms of – I’m not sure I follow your question. When you say who is coming home, I mean, we're not going to get into the details of what soldiers are coming back, but do you mean something else by that?

Q: Yes. Can you give us any indication of, you know, when Fort Bragg troops were brought back from Syria earlier this year there was an announcement about that. Do you know what capabilities or units will be returning home in January?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Yes, I didn't understand the question. Sorry about that. Yes, we have worked through that with the chairman and the commanding generals in theater. Obviously, they are the professionals making the recommendations to get to this number and what types of troops and forces we need to reduce to. So those decisions have been calculated and made. And we will make those decisions, or execute those decisions here today on (inaudible).

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: But we're not going to announce which units today. And then just on the previous question, I think I said the SIGAR report. I meant the IG report, so just to clarify that.

We'll do one more question and then we've got to drop here. So we'll go to Tom Bowman.

Q: Yes, thanks for doing this. I think, SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2, you talked about how the President has been discussing this for years. So is this more keeping a campaign pledge rather than an action that furthers American security interests?

And also as far as the conditions, Frank McKenzie, who heads CENTCOM, just a few days ago said, quote, "The sheer volume of Taliban-initiated attacks against the people of Afghanistan are not indicative of an organization that is serious about peace." He said, "It's less clear to me they're committed to denying Al Qaida a presence in Afghanistan."

So again, it's curious you mentioned, conditions being met, but clearly the biggest ones are not being met.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: As to your first question on whether or not this is to fulfill a campaign promise, I'd refer you to the White House. You know, we over here are in the civilian chain of command running the Department of Defense. And the secretary of Defense will execute the president's decisions no matter what they are. So we’ve heard the decision and you now have full details on the background as to why that happened.

As to the second part of your question with General McKenzie, General McKenzie's statement in the theater is accurate, as he is our combatant general in the theater. But it is one piece of the formula; it is not to say just because there is an increase in violence that other conditions have not been met.

We've had these conversations, not just with General McKenzie but with General Miller, and with Chairman Milley, and the secretary of Defense, along with dozens of other military officials and national security officials here in the Washington, D.C. area obviously. So there is no one singular point of fact which makes conditions have been met or not met.

Q: So what are the other conditions?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: The other conditions are not matters we are going to publicly engage with except to say that the conditions, plural, have been discussed and met. And the decision has been made by the president at the advice of his national security cabinet that such matters have been addressed thoroughly.

Q: So you can't tell the American people what those conditions are that have been met?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: We can tell you that the conditions that have been met are what we've been saying the entire time, that with 2,500 troops in Afghanistan we can protect the American people, we can protect the Afghan people.


Q: No, I'm talking about the conditions that have been met by the Taliban.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Pardon me, I'm still talking.


SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Tom, you asked the question three times. SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2 is going to answer it, so if you can just hold off, SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2 will finish his answer and then we're going to move on.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: And the decision to bring troops home was made at the direction of the President because the two greatest concerns, about the protection of the American people and our interests, and the protection of the Afghan people, have been met, based upon the recommendations of the commanding generals in the theater and national security officials here. And the biggest goal and the only solution to Afghanistan is a peace-negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government. And this takes us one step closer to that…

Q: But again, you can't mention the conditions?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Hey, Tom, I think he mentioned the two conditions that have been met that were the ones that were taken into consideration and on which the decision was based. And that is that there's no national security threat and that we can continue with the operations on the ground that are necessary to maintain that posture. So he's mentioned both of those multiple times.

Q: No, but do you understand my question? My question is the Taliban were supposed to abide by certain conditions which they have not.


SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Tom, I -- I got it --


SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: -- Tom? Tom? Okay, we've got to drop off right now.


SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: We've got to drop off. We'll talk to everybody in about six minutes.


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Acting Secretary Miller Announces Troop Levels in Afghanistan and Iraq

 Nov. 17, 2020

Acting Secretary Of Defense Christopher C. Miller

ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHRISTOPHER C. MILLER: Good afternoon. I'm Chris Miller, acting secretary of defense, and I'm here today to update you on President Trump's plan to bring the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to a successful and responsible conclusion, and to bring our brave service members home. 

From Kabul to Kandahar and from Mosul to Fallujah, hundreds of thousands of America's finest sons and daughters, who selflessly answered the call to serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard have brought us to this point. Their efforts and sacrifice will go down in history as epitomizing the strength, commitment, and empathy of a force that is unlike any the world has ever seen. 

Just last night, I joined Vice President Mike Pence and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Milley to attend the dignified transfer of five American soldiers who perished on duty in the Middle East. This was a somber and humbling moment that reminded us of the tremendous sacrifices made by the men and women of the United States military in service of freedom and security. 

Our armed forces take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. They serve not for personal gain, but for the protection and well-being of their fellow Americans and their homeland. They are champions for peace, liberty, and the rule of law, and unrelenting when called upon to defend our people and our values. We owe them and their loved ones an enormous debt of gratitude. 

This is why I'm enormously blessed and privileged to stand before you today to outline the next phase of our campaign to defeat terrorists who have perpetrated attacks on our homeland, including those who help and harbor them, and to prevent -- prevent future acts of terrorism against our nation. 

We owe this moment to the many patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice, and their comrades who carry forward their legacy. Together, we have mourned the loss of more than 6,900 American troops who gave their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we will never forget the more than 52,000 who bear the wounds of war and all those who still carry its scars – visible and invisible. 

In light of these tremendous sacrifices, and with great humility and gratitude to those who came before us, I am formally announcing that we will implement President Trump's orders to continue our repositioning of forces from those two countries. By January 15, 2001 – excuse me, I clearly am thinking of where this started in 2001 – by January 15, 2021, our forces, their size in Afghanistan will be 2,500 troops. Our force size in Iraq will also be 2,500 by that same date. This is consistent with our established plans and strategic objectives, supported by the American people, and does not equate to a change in U.S. policy or objectives. 

Moreover, this decision by the president is based on continuous engagement with his national security cabinet over the past several months, including ongoing discussions with me and my colleagues across the United States Government. 

I have also spoken with our military commanders, and we all will execute this repositioning in a way that protects our fighting men and women, our partners in the intelligence community and diplomatic corps, and our superb allies that are critical to rebuilding Afghan and Iraqi security capabilities and civil society for a lasting peace in troubled lands. 

And just this morning, I spoke with key leaders in Congress, as well as our allies and partners abroad, to update them on these plans, in light of our shared approach. We went in together, we adjust together, and when the time is right, we will leave together. 

One of my calls was to NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg. Another was to Afghanistan's President Ghani, who expressed his gratitude for every American service member who has fought for peace and strengthened the longstanding friendship between our countries. 

President Ghani highlighted the caliber of our troops, which he noted has always been more important than the quantity. We continue to stand with him as his government works toward a negotiated settlement for peace. 

Meanwhile, let us remind those who question our resolve or may seek to interfere with this prudent, well planned and coordinated transition – the United States armed forces remain committed to protecting the safety and security of the American people, and supporting our likeminded allies and partners worldwide. 

If the forces of terror, instability, division, and hate begin a deliberate campaign to disrupt our efforts, we stand ready to apply the capabilities required to thwart them. 

As a veteran whose life and family was irrevocably changed in the deserts, mountains, and cities of Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops who have fought there and were forever transformed by their experiences, I celebrate this day, as we continue the president's consistent progress in completing the mission we began nearly two decades ago. 

I want to thank the Afghans and Iraqis who have partnered with us throughout, and who now carry the bulk of the fighting to secure their homelands. I want to thank our NATO allies and other partners who have fought alongside us and taken the lead on training and advising the Afghan and Iraqi security forces. We will continue to support their efforts. 

And thanks to our more than 80 partners in the Defeat ISIS coalition. We have destroyed the ISIS caliphate and will ensure they never again gain a foothold to attack our people. 

In closing, we set out to accomplish three goals in 2001. First, go abroad and destroy terrorists, their organizations, and their sanctuaries. Two, strengthen our defenses against future attacks. And three, prevent the continued growth of Islamist terrorism to include by working with allies and local partners to take the lead in the fight. 

Today is another critical step in that direction, and a result of President Trump's bold leadership. With the blessings of providence in the coming year, we will finish this generational war and bring our men and women home. We will protect our children from the heavy burden and toll of perpetual war. And we will honor the sacrifices made in service to peace and stability in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the world, and celebrate all those who helped us secure freedom over oppression.

God bless our women and men in uniform. Thank you very much.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Guantanamo Periodic Review Board Media Invitation Announced

 Nov. 10, 2020

The Department of Defense will allocate seats for news media at the Pentagon satellite viewing location on Nov. 19, to cover unclassified portions of the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board for Saifullah Paracha (ISN 1094).

Due to limited space availability, selection is not guaranteed. Upon selection, additional information on meeting time and location will be provided.

Media desiring to observe the hearing should send requests via email to osd.pentagon.pa.mbx.gtmo-press@mail.mil.

All requests must be received no later than noon ET, Nov. 13. Media members should include their name, position, sponsoring organization and contact information (cell phone and email address) in their request. Multiple names from the same organization may be submitted.

Further information, including media ground rules, can be viewed at the Periodic Review Secretariat website at http://www/prs.mil.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Former Elkhart, Indiana Resident Sentenced to Over Six Years in Prison for Financing of Terrorism

 Samantha Marie Elhassani, aka Samantha Sally, 35, formerly of Elkhart, Indiana, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Philip P. Simon to 78  months in prison and three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to Financing Terrorism, announced 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 Jill Sanborn, and FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Indianapolis field office Paul Keenan.

“Once again, the Justice Department has held accountable an individual who turned her back on her country to support a terrorist organization,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “As Elhassani admitted, she made multiple trips to Hong Kong to smuggle tens of thousands in cash and gold, knowing that the funds would be used to support ISIS in Syria.  We repatriated Elhassani from Syria because every nation is responsible for holding its citizens accountable and addressing the future threat they may pose.  We will not stop.”

"Today's sentencing of Ms. Elhassani should serve as a stark reminder that ISIS and other terrorist organizations have no limits when it comes to recruiting people to join their violent agenda,” said Jill Sanborn, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division. “But it also demonstrates our resolve to diligently go after anyone who makes the fateful choice to provide material support to any terrorist organization, especially those who not only betray their country but who would also put their own children in harm’s way during the process.” 

“Samantha Elhassani was sentenced today for 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.  My Office and our law enforcement partners are committed to prosecuting those like Elhassani who provide support to terrorist organizations. ”

“Today's sentence serves as a strong reminder that the FBI will never relent in ensuring those who abandon their country to support a violent terrorist organization, such as Ms. Elhassani did, will be held accountable and justice will be served,” said FBI Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan. “Adding to her betrayal, Ms. Elhassani willfully chose to put her young children's lives at risk through her selfish actions, exposing them to an atmosphere of violence and hatred. She knew exactly what she was doing and why.  She was an active participant in this heinous activity and is now facing the consequences.” 

According to documents in this case, 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 at the time 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.

During her last trip to Hong Kong, in late March 2015, Elhassani procured tactical gear, including rifle scopes and image-stabilized binoculars. From there, Elhassani and her family, including her seven year old son and two year old daughter, departed for Istanbul, Turkey, and entered ISIS-controlled territory in Syria sometime in or around June 2015. In the months leading up to the move to Syria, Elhassani helped conceal the plans by lying to family, friends and federal agents about her travel.

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

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Indianapolis Division and Joint Terrorism Task Force.  This case was prosecuted by the Assistant United States Attorneys Abizer Zanzi, Jennifer Chang and Nathaniel Whalen and the National Security Divisions Counterterrorism Section. 

Friday, November 06, 2020

Portland Resident Indicted for Providing Material Support to ISIS

 The Department of Justice announced that a federal grand jury in Portland returned a five count indictment against Portland resident Hawazen Sameer Mothafar, 31, charging two counts of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization and one count of providing and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2339B(a)(1). In addition, the indictment charges Mothafar with one count of false statements in an immigration application in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1546(a) and one count of false statement to a government agency in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001(a)(2).

Mothafar had his initial appearance in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Jolie A. Russo yesterday.  Due to the fact that Mothafar has physical disabilities and is confined to a wheelchair, the government did not seek detention. Rather, Mothafar was released on conditions including limitations on travel and the use of electronic devices.

According to the allegations contained within the indictment, between February 2015, and up to the time of arrest, Mothafar conspired with ISIS members to provide material support to ISIS.  This support included a range of activities.  Mothafar produced and distributed ISIS propaganda and recruiting materials that he created and edited in coordination with official ISIS media operatives located overseas.  Mothafar produced, edited, and distributed a number of publications and articles including “Effective Stabbing Techniques,” which provided detailed guidance on how to best kill and maim a target in a knife attack, a tutorial on using explosive ignition devices entitled “How Does a Detonator Work,” and propaganda that encouraged readers to carry out attacks in their home countries if they could not travel overseas to fight.  Mothafar also maintained contact with ISIS officials overseas and provided technical support to these individuals that included opening social media and email accounts for official use.  During the time of this alleged activity, Mothafar also made false statements on immigration documents and to government officials denying any ties to terrorist organizations.

This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Portland Division and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Ethan Knight and Geoffrey Barrow with the assistance of Counterrorism Trial Attorney Alexandra Hughes.

An indictment is only an accusation of a crime, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

United States Seizes 27 Additional Domain Names Used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to Further a Global, Covert Influence Campaign

 Action Follows Last Month’s Seizure of 92 IRGC Domains

The United States has seized 27 domain names that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) unlawfully used to further a global covert influence campaign.

As described in the seizure documents, all 27 domains were being used in violation of U.S. sanctions targeting both the Government of Iran and the IRGC. Four of the domains purported to be genuine news outlets but were actually controlled by the IRGC and targeted audiences in the United States, to covertly influence United States policy and public opinion, in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The remainder targeted audiences in other parts of the world.  This seizure warrant follows an earlier seizure of 92 domains used by the IRGC for similar purposes.

“Within the last month we have announced seizures of Iran’s weapons, fuel, and covert influence infrastructure,” said John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.  “As long as Iran’s leaders are trying to destabilize the world through the state-sponsorship of terrorism and the taking of hostages, we will continue to enforce U.S. sanctions and take other legal steps to counter them.”

“Today's 29 seizures are another important step against Iran's worldwide disinformation campaign,” said U.S. Attorney Anderson.  “This work will continue.  We cannot allow Iran's attachment to fake news to overtake our commitment to the rule of law.”

“The FBI is aggressively investigating any evidence of foreign influence and the unlawful spread of disinformation by hostile nations.  Today, we seized 27 additional domains that Iran’s IRGC was illegally using in attempt to manipulate public opinion in other countries, including the United States,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair.  “Thanks to our ongoing collaboration with Google, Facebook, and Twitter, the FBI was able to disrupt this Iranian propaganda campaign and we will continue to pursue any attempts by foreign actors to spread disinformation in our country.” 

The seizure warrant, issued on Nov. 3, 2020, describes how the 27 seized domain names were being operated in violation of federal law.  Control of the domains by the IRGC violated the International Emergency and Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR), which prohibit U.S. persons from providing services to the Government of Iran without a license.  Further, the United States has found that the IRGC has provided material support to a number of terrorist groups, including Hizballah, Hamas, and the Taliban.  As such, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added the IRGC to its list of Specially Designated Nationals, imposing additional licensing requirements.  As described in the seizure documents, the 27 domains were registered with U.S.-based domain registrars and used top-level domains owned by U.S.-based registries.  Neither the IRGC nor the Government of Iran obtained a license from OFAC prior to using the domain names and obtaining services from the U.S. providers. 

In addition, four of the 27 domain names, “rpfront.com,” “ahtribune.com,” “awdnews.com,” and “criticalstudies.org,” were also seized pursuant to FARA.  FARA establishes a registration, reporting, and disclosure regime for agents of foreign principals (including foreign governments and their agencies) so that the U.S. government and the people of the United States are informed of the source of information and the identity of persons attempting to influence U.S. public opinion, policy, and law. 

FARA requires, among other things, that persons subject to its requirements submit periodic registration statements containing truthful information about their activities and the income earned from them.  Disclosure of the required information allows the federal government and the American people to evaluate the statements and activities of such persons in light of their function as foreign agents.  Here, the four domains purported to be independent news outlets, but they were actually operated by or on behalf of the IRGC to target the United States with pro-Iranian propaganda in an attempt to covertly influence the American people to change United States policy concerning Iran and the Middle East. 

These domains targeted a United States audience without proper registration pursuant to FARA and without notifying the American public with a conspicuous label that the content of the domains was being published on behalf of foreign principals, the IRGC and the Government of Iran.

Visitors to the sites received the following message:

Notice of Seizure

This seizure was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Special Prosecutions Section and Asset Forfeiture Unit of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, and the Counterespionage Section of the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, are prosecuting the seizure. 

Military Commissions Media Invitation Announced for United States v. Majid Shoukat Khan, Pre-sentencing Hearing

 Nov. 4, 2020

The Department of Defense and the Office of Military Commissions (OMC) will host news media to cover the military commission pre-sentencing hearing scheduled for United States v. Majid Shoukat Khan, November 18, 2020.

The pre-sentencing hearing will be conducted in the National Capitol Region; however, media will view the proceedings via closed circuit television (CCTV) from Fort Meade, Maryland.

Media desiring to view this hearing from Fort Meade must send their requests via email to osd.mc-alex.OMC.mbx.omc-pa@mail.mil.

All requests must be received no later than noon EDT, Wednesday, November 11, 2020. Multiple requesters from the same organization must register separately with the following information:

Email Subject: United States v. Majid Shoukat Khan, Nov. 18

  • Individual's full name
  • Individual's position
  • Sponsoring organization (individual’s media outlet)
  • Contact information (cell phone and email)

Prior to the hearing, OMC will provide additional information, including COVID-19 mitigation requirements, to all media accepted to attend.

Email ronald.e.flesvig.civ@mail.mil with any questions. Military Commissions information, including the media ground rules, can be viewed at the OMC website https://www.mc.mil.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Statement by Jonathan Hoffman, Chief Pentagon Spokesman, on Hostage Rescue Operation in Northern Nigeria

 Oct. 31, 2020

Statement by Jonathan Hoffman, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs:

“U.S. forces conducted a hostage rescue operation during the early hours of 31 October in Northern Nigeria to recover an American citizen held hostage by a group of armed men. This American citizen is safe and is now in the care of the U.S. Department of State. No U.S military personnel were injured during the operation.

We appreciate the support of our international partners in conducting this operation.

The United States will continue to protect our people and our interests anywhere in the world.”

Friday, October 30, 2020

DOD Establishes Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy

 Oct. 30, 2020

As directed in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 the Department of Defense established the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy (ASD(SP)) and the Office of the ASD(SP) Oct. 29, 2020.  

The ASD(SP) will be the senior official responsible for the overall supervision of DoD policy for space warfighting.  The ASD(SP) will be under the authority, direction, and control of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (USD(P)).  In addition, ASD(SP) is responsible for interagency coordination and international engagement on space policy and strategy.

“The Department of Defense continues the most significant transformation in the history of the U.S. national security space program,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense David L. Norquist.  “The establishment of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy is a change of the civilian oversight of the space enterprise that aligns with the establishment of the U.S. Space Force and U.S. Space Command.”

In 2019, the Department of Defense and the United States elevated two military organizations for space.  This change in civilian oversight will continue to bring focus to long-term strategic competition, as outlined in the National Defense Strategy and the Lines of Effort outlined in the Defense Space Strategy.

Mr. Justin Johnson is designated as the official performing the duties of the ASD(SP) until such time as an individual is nominated by the President, confirmed by the Senate, and appointed to the position. Mr. Gregory Pejic is designated to serve as the Principal Deputy ASD(SP) until an individual is appointed to the position.

Acting Secretary Chad Wolf Condemns Censorship of Government Officials as a Security Threat, Calls on Twitter to End it

 In an open letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf today called on Twitter to no longer obstruct Americans’ unalienable right to communicate with each other, their government, and its officials on the platform, because doing so endangers the national security. As an example of such “unjustified” and “disturbing” censorship, the Acting Secretary cited and condemned the company’s recent actions against U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan.

 “As the Department of Homeland Security and other Federal agencies continue to rely on Twitter to share important information with the U.S. public, your censorship poses a threat to our security,” Acting Secretary Wolf wrote. “Twitter is sabotaging public discourse regarding important national and homeland security issues,” he later added.

Please find the full letter here.