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.