Sunday, May 31, 2020

Attorney General William P. Barr's Statement on Riots and Domestic Terrorism

Attorney General William P. Barr has issued the following statement:

“With the rioting that is occurring in many of our cities around the country, the voices of peaceful and legitimate protests have been hijacked by violent radical elements.  Groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate, violent, and extremist agenda.

It is time to stop watching the violence and to confront and stop it.  The continued violence and destruction of property endangers the lives and livelihoods of others, and interferes with the rights of peaceful protestors, as well as all other citizens. 

It also undercuts the urgent work that needs to be done – through constructive engagement between affected communities and law enforcement leaders – to address legitimate grievances.  Preventing reconciliation and driving us apart is the goal of these radical groups, and we cannot let them succeed. 

It is the responsibility of state and local leaders to ensure that adequate law enforcement resources, including the National Guard where necessary, are deployed on the streets to reestablish law and order.  We saw this finally happen in Minneapolis last night, and it worked. 

Federal law enforcement actions will be directed at apprehending and charging the violent radical agitators who have hijacked peaceful protest and are engaged in violations of federal law.

To identify criminal organizers and instigators, and to coordinate federal resources with our state and local partners, federal law enforcement is using our existing network of 56 regional FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF). 

The violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly.”

Florida Woman Sentenced For Attempting To Provide Material Support To ISIS

Fort Myers, Florida – U.S. District Judge Sheri Polster Chappell today sentenced Alison Marie Sheppard, a/k/a “Aiisha Abdullah,” (35, Punta Gorda) to 5 years and 10 months in federal prison for attempting to provide material support to ISIS, a designated foreign terrorist organization. The court also sentenced Sheppard to a term of 15 years supervised release.

Sheppard had pleaded guilty on May 17, 2019.

According to court documents, from approximately January 2017 until July 18, 2017, Sheppard knowingly attempted to provide material support and resources to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, by purchasing and shipping 10 cellphones that she intended for ISIS to use to detonate improvised explosive devices.

Beginning in early 2016, Sheppard used Facebook and social media applications to network and find like-minded individuals who supported a Salafi jihadist mindset and ISIS, and she posted videos that she had created to her YouTube channel to instruct her online friends. Sheppard also posted the videos on social media sites in support of her beliefs. Many of these videos broadcasted the teachings of Islamist extremists who supported violent jihad. Among her postings supporting ISIS in social media accounts, Sheppard published screenshots of an online ISIS magazine that contained articles glorifying terrorist acts committed by ISIS members.

 Sheppard also used social media applications to engage in encrypted communications with individuals she believed were supporters of ISIS. One of those individuals was someone Sheppard believed had later traveled to the Middle East to join ISIS. Sheppard sent that person an ISIS e-book detailing how ISIS members travel in and out of Syria, including operational security measures to assist foreign fighters in evading detection in their pursuit to join ISIS. That individual was later apprehended by the FBI and began cooperating with federal law enforcement. Sheppard also began communicating with two other individuals who she believed were ISIS supporters, but who were, in fact, undercover law enforcement officers. During one of those conversations, Sheppard told the undercover officer that she had sworn allegiance to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the now-deceased former leader of ISIS.

In June 2017, while engaging in online social media conversations with the cooperating individual and the two undercover law enforcement officers, Sheppard offered to purchase and ship cellphones that ISIS could use to detonate improvised explosive devices. Later, in July 2017, Sheppard purchased 10 cellphones from five stores in Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte, and Rotonda West, Florida. She arranged to have the phones mailed to one of the undercover officers, believing that they would be forwarded to the Middle East and that ISIS would use them as timers for “pressure cooker” bombs.   

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department Intelligence Section. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey F. Michelland, Assistant United States Attorney Jesus M. Casas, and Trial Attorney David C. Smith of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Military Commissions Media Invitation Announced for United States v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad et al.

May 29, 2020

The Department of Defense (DoD) and the Office of Military Commissions (OMC) will allocate seats for news media aboard military-chartered aircraft for travel to and from Joint Base Andrews (JBA) to Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (NSGB) to cover Military Commission pre-trial proceedings scheduled for United States v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad et al., July 20-31, 2020.

In accordance with DoD guidelines regarding travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and NSGB Instruction 6210.0, all military and civilians shall perform a 14-day restriction of movement upon arrival at NSGB.

Reporters are not required to stay for the entire duration of scheduled hearings. Although subject to change, the available flight schedule will be the following: 

  • Sunday, July 5 – Joint Base Andrews to NSGB
  • Saturday, July 25 – NSGB to Joint Base Andrews 
  • Saturday, August 1 – NSGB to Joint Base Andrews 

Media desiring to view this hearing from NSGB must complete the registration form. All requests must be received no later than noon EDT, Friday, June 5. Multiple requesters from the same organization must register separately via the form.

Due to a limited number of seats aboard the flight and limited accommodations at Guantanamo Bay, selection is not guaranteed. 

Additional viewing is available for media members via Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) from a media work center at Fort George G. Meade, Md.

Media desiring to view this hearing from Fort Meade, must send their requests via email to with the following information: 

Subject line: Case Name and Date

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

NOTE 1: There are no tours of detention camps scheduled during military commissions. Requests for reporting on Guantanamo topics not related to the military commissions must be coordinated through OSD Public Affairs and the Joint Task Force Guantanamo public affairs office. The primary purpose of travel to Guantanamo Bay is courtroom reporting.

NOTE 2: All media must ensure their passports and visas (foreign press) are up-to-date and eligible to enter and exit the United States.

Expeditionary Legal Complex – B-roll 2017  

Expeditionary Legal Complex – Photos 2014

Further information including the media ground rules can be viewed at the Office of Military Commissions website.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Former Member Of Venezuelan National Assembly Charged With Narco-Terrorism, Drug Trafficking, And Weapons Offenses

Adel El Zabayar Allegedly Worked with the Former President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro Moros and Other Prominent Venezuelan Officials to Distribute Cocaine and Weapons In Coordination with Terrorist Organizations

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Timothy J. Shea, Acting Administrator U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), announced today that ADEL EL ZABAYAR was charged in Manhattan federal court with participating in a narco-terrorism conspiracy, a cocaine importation conspiracy, and related weapons offenses involving the use and possession of machineguns and destructive devices, all based on his support of the Venezuelan Cártel de Los Soles and designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (“FARC”), Hizballah, and Hamas.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “As alleged, Adel El Zabayar was part of the unholy alliance of government, military, and FARC members using violence and corruption to further their narco-terrorist aims.  El Zabayar was allegedly a key part of the apparatus that conspired to export literally tons of cocaine into the U.S.  We further allege today, for the first time, that the Cártel de Los Soles sought to recruit terrorists from Hizballah and Hamas to assist in planning and carrying out attacks on the U.S., and that El Zabayar was instrumental as a go-between.  Allegedly, El Zabayar obtained from the Middle East a cargo planeload of military-grade weaponry.  With today’s charges, El Zabayar joins the rogues’ gallery of defendants we charged two months ago, and he faces the possibility of life in a U.S. prison if and when he is apprehended.”

DEA Acting Administrator Timothy J. Shea said:  “Today’s charges against Adel El Zabayar for trading arms for cocaine, and recruiting extremists, further demonstrates the corruption inside the Maduro regime.  The actions charged in the complaint show that Maduro’s administration operates with no regard for its own citizens, instead choosing to flood the United States with cocaine and other drugs while enriching itself.  As the layers of the Maduro regime are exposed, so is its immoral, unethical, and dangerous actions.”

According to the allegations contained in the Complaint charging EL ZABAYAR and in the related Superseding Indictment charging Maduro Moros and others in the Southern District of New York, which was unsealed on March 26, 2020[1]:

EL ZABAYAR is a member of the Cártel de Los Soles, or “Cartel of the Suns.”  The Cartel’s name refers to the sun insignias affixed to the uniforms of high-ranking Venezuelan military officials.  For more than two decades, Cartel members, including EL ZABAYAR and Maduro Moros, have abused the Venezuelan people and corrupted the legitimate institutions of Venezuela – including parts of the military, intelligence apparatus, legislature, and the judiciary – to facilitate the importation of tons of cocaine into the United States.  The Cartel sought not only to enrich its members and enhance their power, but also to “flood” the United States with cocaine and inflict the drug’s harmful and addictive effects on users in the United States. 

The Cártel de Los Soles has worked in coordination with designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, including the FARC, Hizballah, and Hamas.  EL ZABAYAR, in particular, has, among other things, participated in weapons-for-cocaine negotiations with the FARC, obtained anti-tank rocket launchers from the Middle East for the FARC as partial payment for cocaine, and recruited terrorists from Hizballah and Hamas for the purpose of helping to plan and organize attacks against United States interests.    

For example, in or about 2014, EL ZABAYAR participated in several meetings with Diosdado Cabello Rondón, the president of Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly and a member of the Cártel de Los Soles, at a military base in Caracas, Venezuela.  During the meetings, Cabello Rondón directed EL ZABAYAR to travel to the Middle East to obtain weapons and recruit members of Hizballah and Hamas to train at clandestine training camps located in Venezuela.  Cabello Rondón explained during the meeting, among other things, that the purpose of recruiting members of Hizballah and Hamas to train in Venezuela was to create a large terrorist cell capable of attacking United States interests on behalf of the Cártel de Los Soles.  EL ZABAYAR agreed.  Several months later, after EL ZABAYAR returned to Venezuela from the Middle East, EL ZABAYAR, Cabello Rondón, and others traveled together to a hangar controlled by Maduro Moros at the Simón Bolívar International Airport in Maiquetía, Venezuela, where EL ZABAYAR received a Lebanese cargo plane full of weapons, including rocket-propelled grenade launchers, AK-103s, and sniper rifles, that EL ZABAYAR had obtained while he was in the Middle East, as Cabello Rondón had directed.   

During the course of EL ZABAYAR’s activities on behalf of the Cártel de Los Soles, EL ZABAYAR also acted as a liaison between the Venezuelan government and Syrian president Bashar Hafez al-Assad, fought in Syria on behalf of Assad’s Hizballah-backed forces in or about 2013, and appeared in at least two interviews released by Al Manar, Hizballah’s terrorist-designated propaganda arm, in or about 2013 and 2014.

*                      *                     *

The Complaint charges EL ZABAYAR, 56, with: (1) participating in a narco-terrorism conspiracy, which carries a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum of life; (2) conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, which carries a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum of life; (3) using and carrying machine guns and destructive devices during and in relation to, and possessing machine guns and destructive devices in furtherance of, the narco-terrorism and cocaine importation conspiracies, which carries a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum of life; and (4) conspiring to use and carry machine guns and destructive devices during and in relation to, and to possess machine guns and destructive devices in furtherance of, the narco-terrorism and cocaine importation conspiracies, which carries a maximum sentence of life.  The potential mandatory minimum and maximum sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the DEA’s Special Operations Division Bilateral Investigations Unit and New York Strike Force.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amanda L. Houle, Matthew J. Laroche, Jason A. Richman, and Kyle Wirshba are in charge of the prosecution.

The charges in the Complaint and Superseding Indictment S2 11 Cr. 205 are merely accusations, and EL ZABAYAR and the defendants named in the Superseding Indictment are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.


[1]  As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint and the Superseding Indictment and the description of those documents set forth herein, constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Tampa Man Charged With Attempting To Provide Material Support To ISIS

Tampa, Florida – The Department of Justice today announced the filing of a criminal complaint charging Muhammed Momtaz Al-Azhari (23, Tampa) with attempting to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, namely, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). If convicted, Al-Azhari faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.

“We are grateful for the hard work and swift action by our law enforcement partners and concerned citizens during this investigation,” stated U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez for the Middle District of Florida. “Their coordination and cooperation in this matter allowed us to interrupt a serious threat, without harm to anyone.”

“We are grateful for the quick work of our partners at the FBI to apprehend Al-Azhari before he could carry out his attack,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “This case demonstrates the Department’s commitment to stand vigilant against the threat of terrorism and violent extremism in all its forms.” 

 “The primary mission of the FBI is to protect the American public from a terrorist attack. Today’s announcement of the arrest of Muhammed Momtaz Al-Azahari is proof we are committed to that pledge. I commend the 18 federal, state, and local member agencies who comprise FBI Tampa’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) for working day and night to prevent the loss of life in the Tampa Bay community,” said Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Tampa Division Michael F. McPherson. “We were also fortunate to gain the cooperation of multiple citizens who willingly and bravely provided their assistance during this investigation. This strong bond between law enforcement and the public allowed us to disrupt this threat.” 

According to the complaint, Al-Azhari was an ISIS supporter who planned and attempted to carry out an attack on behalf of that terrorist organization. Al-Azhari, who has a criminal history that includes prior terrorism charges in Saudi Arabia, attempted to purchase multiple firearms over the course of the investigation, before acquiring a Glock pistol and a silencer. He also expressed admiration for Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen and spoke of his desire to carry out a similar mass casualty shooting. Additionally, Al-Azhari researched and scouted potential targets in the Tampa area, including Honeymoon Island. He also rehearsed portions of an attack and the statements that he would make during or in connection with such an attack.

FBI agents arrested Al-Azhari on May 24, 2020, after he took possession of weapons to be used in an attack.

A complaint is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, including Homeland Security Investigations, the Tampa Police Department, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, the St. Petersburg Police Department, the Clearwater Police Department, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Patrick Scruggs, with assistance from Trial Attorney Ranganath Mathripragada of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

Department of Homeland Security Adds Brazil to List of Countries for COVID-19 Travel Restrictions

WASHINGTON – Based on a recommendation by DHS and its intergovernmental partners, such as the Centers for Disease Control, President Trump signed a proclamation on May 24 and amended on May 25 suspending the entry into the U.S. of any foreign nationals who were present in Brazil during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States. This travel restriction applies to flights departing after 11:59 pm Eastern Daylight Time on May 26.

“As we reopen the U.S. economy, the Trump administration is continuing to take aggressive measures to protect the American people from COVID-19,” said Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf. “By adding Brazil to the list of travel-restricted nations based on a careful and thorough analysis of data, we are proactively mitigating another risk factor to our communities. While this may be disruptive to some travelers, action is needed to protect the public from further spread of the virus.”

Brazil will be added to a list of travel-restricted countries currently including Iran, China, and most European countries, which have all been highly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

American citizens, legal permanent residents, and their immediate families who are returning home after recently visiting Brazil or other travel-restricted countries may still reenter by going through a process for enhanced medical screenings at specially designated airports. To accommodate the inclusion of Brazil, George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport are being added to the existing list of airports currently receiving flights from travel-restricted nations, bringing the total to the below 15 airports:

             Boston-Logan International Airport (BOS), Massachusetts

             Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Illinois

             Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Texas

             Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), Michigan

             Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), Hawaii

             Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), Florida

             George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), Texas

             Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Georgia

             John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York

             Los Angeles International Airport, (LAX), California

             Miami International Airport (MIA), Florida

             Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), New Jersey

             San Francisco International Airport (SFO), California

             Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Washington

             Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD), Virginia 

Upon arrival, travelers will proceed to standard customs processing. They will then continue to enhanced entry screening where passengers will have random temperature checks and be asked about their medical history, current condition, and contact information for their local health authorities. Passengers will then be given written guidance about COVID-19 and directed to proceed to their final destination, and where they should immediately home-quarantine in accordance with CDC best practices.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Acting DHS Secretary Wolf Announces Additional Support to Firefighting Organizations

Fort Worth, TX – Today, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf visited the Fort Worth Fire Department Training Academy with Congresswoman Kay Granger, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Fort Worth Fire Chief Jim Davis. During a press conference, Acting Secretary Wolf announced changes to the FY2019 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant program that would allow more firefighting organizations to take advantage of the grants.

“Firefighting organizations represent our hometown heroes, risking their lives to keep our communities safe,” said Acting Secretary Wolf. “While bravely answering the call during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these departments are seeing increased personnel costs. Through our decisive actions on SAFER Grants, DHS is continuing its commitment to support our local partners during this difficult time and making sure they have the resources they need to carry out their critical missions.”

FY2019 SAFER Grants will no longer be subject to certain cost share, salary cap, supplanting, and minimum budget restrictions. Further, Acting Secretary Wolf announced that economically impacted fire departments can apply for and receive SAFER funding for FY2019 through May 27th. These changes will be extended into FY2020.

The SAFER Grant program is a critical partnership between DHS, FEMA, and local fire organizations that is crucial in helping fire departments in recruitment and retention. Firefighters and EMTs have been indispensable in the fight against COVID-19 and have been part of the backbone of local responses to the pandemic.

“The Fort Worth Fire Department plays a critical role in the health and safety of our community and has been on the frontlines of our fight against COVID-19”, said Mayor Betsy Price “The SAFER Grant has ensured our first responders have the resources necessary to best protect and serve all of Fort Worth.”

“Firefighters are asked to problem solve every emergent issue of national importance. With the economic impact of Covid-19, it is imperative to maintain fire department staffing to continue to solve the next need in our communities, said Fort Worth Fire Chief Jim Davis. “I personally appreciate the commitment of Acting Secretary Wolf to the Fort Worth Fire Department with this announcement.”

“It was an honor to be able to meet with the firefighters in my community and thank them for the job they do, said Congresswoman Kay Granger. “It was important for me to be there to understand exactly what they need in order to be able to do the best job possible to keep us safe”