nationalsecuritylaw United States v. al-Jayab (N.D. Ill. Mar. 17, 2016) (material support charge relating to unspecified groups in Syria)

March 18, 2016

DOJ’s press release is below, and a brief (one-count) indictment is attached. Looks like they are not sure which group this person affiliated with in Syria, and hence the charge is under 2339A rather than 2339B (the latter requiring that the support go to a specific designated foreign terrorist organization, the former requiring no particular organizational link but instead requiring support knowing or intending that it will facilitate commission of one of many predicate criminal acts).

WASHINGTON – Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab, 23, of Sacramento, California, was indicted today in the Northern District of Illinois for attempting to provide material support to acts of violence overseas.

The indictment was announced by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon of the Northern District of Illinois, Special Agent in Charge Monica M. Miller of the FBI’s Sacramento Division and Special Agent in Charge Michael J. Anderson of the FBI’s Chicago Division.

Al-Jayab was also indicted earlier this year by a grand jury in Sacramento for allegedly making a false statement involving international terrorism. He pleaded not guilty to that charge, and his next court appearance will be a status hearing on May 12, 2016, at 9:00 a.m. PDT, before U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. of the Eastern District of California.

According to a criminal complaint filed in the Eastern District of California, Al-Jayab is a Palestinian born in Iraq, who came to the United States as an Iraqi refugee in October 2012. Between October 2012 and November 2013, while living in Arizona and Wisconsin, Al-Jayab communicated via social media with numerous individuals about his intention to go to Syria to fight for terrorist organizations, the complaint alleges. The complaint further alleges that on Nov. 9, 2013, he flew from Chicago to Turkey and then traveled to Syria.

According to the complaint, between November 2013 and January 2014, Al-Jayab reported on social media that he was in Syria fighting with terrorist organizations. Al-Jayab returned to the United States on Jan. 23, 2014, and settled in Sacramento.

The indictment returned in California contends that Al-Jayab gave false statements to agents from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during an interview on Oct. 6, 2014. In the interview, Al-Jayab indicated that he never supported terrorist groups and that the purpose of his trip to Turkey was to visit his grandmother. The California indictment contends that both statements were false.

The statutory maximum sentence for attempting to provide material support is 15 years in prison. An arraignment date has not yet been set.

An indictment is merely an allegation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The investigation was led by the Sacramento Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is comprised of FBI special agents and representatives from numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of California and the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Security Division provided assistance in the investigation. The case in Chicago is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Barry Jonas and Shoba Pillay of the Northern District of Illinois and Trial Attorney D. Andrew Sigler of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

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Al-Jayab NDIL Indictment.pdf

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nationalsecuritylaw United States v. al-Ghazi (N.D. Ohio Mar. 16, 2016) (guilty plea in ISIS material support case)

March 17, 2016

From DOJ’s press release:

WASHINGTON – A Sheffield Lake, Ohio, man pleaded guilty today to attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization, as well as firearms violations.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, Acting U.S. Attorney Carole S. Rendon of the Northern District of Ohio and Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony of the FBI’s Cleveland Division made the announcement.

Amir Said Rahman Al-Ghazi, 39, also known as Robert C. McCollum, pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to provide material support to ISIL and two counts of possessing firearms as a felon.

Al-Ghazi, who changed his name from Robert McCollum last year, pledged his support to ISIL and Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi via social media in 2014. From July 2014 to June 2015, Al-Ghazi made multiple statements trying to persuade others to join ISIL. He also expressed his own desire to perpetrate an attack on the United States and attempted to purchase an AK-47 assault rifle. Al-Ghazi has communicated with individuals he believed to be members of ISIL in the Middle East and took steps to create propaganda videos for ISIL, according to court documents.

He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 23, 2016.

This case was investigated by the FBI. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew W. Shepherd and Christos N. Georgalis of the Northern District of Ohio, with assistance from the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.


nationalsecuritylaw United States v. Dakhlalla (D. Miss. Mar. 11, 2016) (plea agreement in ISIS material support case)

March 11, 2016

The plea agreement is attached, and the DOJ press release appears below:

WASHINGTON – Muhammad Oda Dakhlalla, 23, of Starkville, Mississippi, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Greenville, Mississippi, to conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

The plea was announced by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Felicia C. Adams of the Northern District of Mississippi and Special Agent in Charge Donald Alway of the FBI’s Jackson, Mississippi, Division.

Dakhlalla pleaded guilty before Chief U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock of the Northern District of Mississippi to conspiring with another individual to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization. Dakhlalla was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service to await sentencing, which will be scheduled at a later date.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Jackson Division Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Washington Field Office. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Mississippi and the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

Dakhlalla Plea Agreement.pdf

Dakhlalla Factual Basis.pdf


nationalsecuritylaw United States v. Buryakov (SDNY Mar. 11, 2016)

March 11, 2016

This one is not a terrorism-related case and hence doesn’t fit my new filter for what I post, yet the circumstances (an actual arrest and conviction of an SVR non-official cover agent) is rather unusual and I just can’t resist (perhaps I’ve been watching too many episodes of The Americans). So, here’s the DOJ press release and (attached) the plea agreement:

WASHINGTON – Evgeny Buryakov, aka Zhenya, 41, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to act in the United States as an agent of the Russian Federation without providing prior notice to the Attorney General.

The guilty plea was announced by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York.

“Evgeny Buryakov pleaded guilty to covertly working as a Russian agent in the United States without notifying the Attorney General,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “Foreign nations who attempt to illegally gather economic and other intelligence information through espionage pose a direct threat to U.S. national security. The National Security Division will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to identify and hold accountable those who illegally operate as covert agents within the United States.”

“An unregistered intelligence agent, under cover of being a legitimate banker, gathers intelligence on the streets of New York City, trading coded messages with Russian spies who send the clandestinely collected information back to Moscow,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara. “This sounds like a plotline for a Cold War-era movie, but in reality, Evgeny Buryakov pled guilty today to a federal crime for his role in just such a scheme. More than two decades after the end of the Cold War, Russian spies still seek to operate in our midst under the cover of secrecy. But in New York, thanks to the work of the FBI and the prosecutors in my office, attempts to conduct unlawful espionage will not be overlooked. They will be investigated and prosecuted.”

According to indictment, other court filings and statements made during court proceedings:

Beginning in at least 2012, Buryakov worked in the United States as an agent of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, known as the SVR. Buryakov operated under non-official cover, meaning he entered and remained in the United States as a private citizen, posing as an employee in the New York office of a Russian bank, Vnesheconombank (VEB). SVR agents operating under such non-official cover (NOCs) are typically subject to less scrutiny by the host government and, in many cases, are never identified as intelligence agents by the host government. As a result, an NOC is an extremely valuable intelligence asset for the SVR.

Federal law prohibits individuals from acting as agents of foreign governments within the United States without prior notification to the Attorney General. Department of Justice records indicate that Buryakov never notified the Attorney General that he was, in fact, an agent of the Russia Federation.

Buryakov worked in New York with at least two other SVR agents, Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy. From on or about Nov. 22, 2010, to on or about Nov. 21, 2014, Sporyshev officially served as a trade representative of the Russian Federation in New York. From on or about Dec. 13, 2012, to on or about Sept. 12, 2013, Podobnyy officially served as an attaché to the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations. The investigation, however, showed that Sporyshev and Podobnyy also worked as officers of the SVR. Sporyshev and Podobnyy were charged along with Buryakov in January 2015, however, Sporyshev and Podobnyy no longer lived in the United States at that time and were not arrested.

The directives from the SVR to Buryakov, Sporyshev and Podobnyy, as well as to other covert SVR agents acting within the United States, included requests to gather intelligence on, among other subjects, potential U.S. sanctions against Russian banks and the United States’ efforts to develop alternative energy resources.

During the course of their work as covert SVR agents in the United States, Buryakov, Sporyshev and Podobnyy regularly met and communicated using clandestine methods and coded messages in order to exchange intelligence-related information while shielding their associations with one another as SVR agents. Sporyshev was responsible for relaying intelligence assignments from the SVR to Buryakov.

On or about March 28, 2014, Sporyshev was recorded telling Buryakov that he needed help researching the “effects of economic sanctions on our country,” among other things. A few days later, on April 2, 2014, Sporyshev called Buryakov and stated, in an intercepted conversation, that he had not seen Buryakov in a while, and asked to meet Buryakov outside VEB’s office in New York in 20 minutes. A court-authorized search of Buryakov’s computer at VEB revealed that, at around the time of this telephone call, Buryakov conducted the following internet searches: “sanctions Russia consiquences” [sic] and “sanctions Russia impact.”

Two days later, on April 4, 2014, Buryakov called Sporyshev and in an intercepted conversation, stated that he “wrote you an order list,” and suggested that they meet. Approximately 20 minutes later, Sporyshev met Buryakov in the driveway of Buryakov’s home. Their encounter, which was captured by a video surveillance camera located near Buryakov’s residence, lasted approximately two minutes. On the video footage, the defendants appeared to exchange a small object.

In the summer of 2014, Buryakov met multiple times with a confidential source working for the FBI and an FBI undercover employee, both of whom purported to be working on a casino development project in Russia. During these meetings, Buryakov accepted documents that were purportedly obtained from a U.S. government agency and which supposedly contained information potentially useful to Russia, including information about U.S. sanctions against Russia.

Buryakov will be sentenced on May 25, 2016, where he faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Assistant Attorney General Carlin joined U.S. Attorney Bharara in praising the investigative work of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.

The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Emil J. Bove III, Brendan F. Quigley and Stephen J. Ritchin of the Southern District of New York, with assistance provided by Senior Trial Attorney Heather Schmidt of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

Buryakov Plea Agreement.pdf


nationalsecuritylaw United States v. Pugh (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 9, 2016) (jury convicts ISIL material support defendant)

March 9, 2016

From DOJ’s press release:

WASHINGTON – A jury in the Eastern District of New York today found Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, 48, of Neptune, New Jersey, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, guilty of attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization, and obstructing an official proceeding.

The verdict was announced by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Robert L. Capers of the Eastern District of New York, Assistant Director in Charge Diego Rodriguez of the FBI’s New York Field Office and Commissioner William J. Bratton of the New York City Police Department.

“Pugh, an American citizen and former member of the U.S. Air Force where he served as an aircraft mechanic, attempted to travel to Syria to provide material support to ISIL,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “This is the first conviction after a trial by jury in the United States involving an individual who attempted to travel to Syria to join ISIL, and further demonstrates our commitment to bring to justice all those who seek to provide material support to terrorists. I would like to thank all the members of law enforcement whose tireless efforts made this result possible.”

“Today’s verdict provides yet another example of a successful outcome in our national security effort, and demonstrates the crucial role that law enforcement action plays in that effort,” said U.S. Attorney Capers. “The evidence presented at trial and the jury’s verdict instill confidence that our law enforcement agencies and their many important partners at home and abroad work effectively to disrupt and defeat the deadly siren’s call of terrorist groups around the globe. Pugh has now been held accountable for his crimes by a jury and will not reach the terrorist group he sought to support.”

“As presented in trial, Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh was willing to become a martyr, using his U.S. military training as a weapon for ISIL,” said Assistant Director in Charge Rodriguez. “Instead, found guilty of his crimes, he is facing a lengthy incarceration. We are pleased the jury found his actions confirmed his expressed desire to cause violence and destruction on behalf of this terrorist organization. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces continue to work globally with our partners to successfully stop such actions before they happen, keep communities safe and bring criminals to justice.”

At trial, the government presented evidence that prior to traveling overseas to try to join ISIL, Pugh served in the Air Force as an avionics instrument system specialist and received training in the installation and maintenance of aircraft engines, navigation and weapons systems. After leaving the Air Force, the defendant worked for a number of companies in the United States and Middle East as an airplane mechanic. Pugh lived abroad for over a year before his arrest in this case.

On Jan. 10, 2015, the defendant traveled from Egypt to Turkey in an effort to cross the border into Syria to join ISIL to engage in violent “jihad.” However, Turkish authorities denied the defendant entry and returned him to Egypt. At the time of his detention, Pugh was carrying a laptop computer and four USB thumb drives that he had stripped of their plastic casings in an effort to destroy their contents and thereby make them unavailable to investigators. The defendant also was carrying solar power chargers, compasses and a black ski mask. Foreign government officials deported the defendant to the United States, where the FBI closely monitored him, relying in part on a covert undercover employee who encountered the defendant at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. The defendant was arrested on Jan. 16, 2015, in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and thereafter indicted in the Eastern District of New York.

At trial, the government presented evidence obtained from the defendant’s laptop computer and social media posts. The defendant’s laptop contained Internet searches for “borders controlled by Islamic state.” The government also introduced evidence of the defendant’s Internet searches for “Flames of War” (an ISIL propaganda video) as well as terrorist videos he had downloaded, including one horrific video showing ISIL members executing prisoners. In addition, statements to coworkers and social media posts established Pugh’s empathy and support for ISIL’s cause and terrorist methods.

At trial, the government also introduced a letter drafted by Pugh on Jan. 5, 2015, shortly before he left Egypt for Turkey on his way to Syria. In that letter, the defendant proclaimed, “I am a Mujahid. I am a sword against the oppressor and a shield for the oppressed. I will use the talents and skills given to me by Allah to establish and defend the Islamic State. There is only 2 possible outcomes for me. Victory or Martyr.”

Based on his trial convictions, the defendant faces a maximum sentence of up to 35 years in prison. Sentencing has not yet been scheduled, but is expected to occur later this year.

Assistant Attorney General Carlin joined U.S. Attorney Capers in extending his grateful appreciation to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), as well as to the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of New Jersey, the Asbury Park Police Department and the Neptune Police Department.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Samuel P. Nitze, Tiana A. Demas and Mark Bini of the Eastern District of New York, with assistance provided by Trial Attorney Larry Schneider of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.


nationalsecuritylaw United States v. Cheng Le (S.D.N.Y. March 8, 2016) (16 year sentence in Ricin case)

March 9, 2016

From DOJ’s press release:

WASHINGTON – Cheng Le, 22, of Manhattan, New York, was sentenced today to 16 years in prison for attempting to acquire ricin, postal fraud and identity theft in relation to a terrorism offense. Le was convicted on Aug. 27, 2015, following a four-day jury trial before U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan of the Southern District of New York, who imposed today’s sentence. Le’s trial conviction marked the first time in the Southern District of New York a defendant had been convicted at trial of attempting to possess a biological toxin for use as a weapon or of aggravated identity theft during and in relation to a terrorism offense.

The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York.

“Cheng Le attempted to acquire ricin for use as a lethal weapon, and used a stolen identity to do so,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “Le sought a ‘risk-free’ way to murder an individual, but thanks to the efforts of law enforcement, his lethal plans were thwarted and the deadly toxin was kept out of his hands.”

“Through the Dark Web, Cheng Le attempted to acquire a lethal toxin,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara. “In Le’s own words, established at trial, he was looking for ‘simple and easy death pills’ and ways to commit ‘100% risk-free’ murder. Thanks to the FBI, the NYPD and the Postal Inspection Service, Le’s deadly plot was thwarted and he has been incapacitated by a lengthy term in federal prison.”

According to the allegations contained in documents previously filed in federal court and the evidence presented at trial:

Ricin is a highly potent and fatal toxin with no known antidote. The dark web is a colloquial name for a number of extensive, sophisticated and widely used online criminal marketplaces, which allow participants to buy and sell illegal items, including ricin.

In early December 2014, Le contacted a FBI online covert employee (OCE) on a particular dark web marketplace using an encrypted messaging service. The OCE had taken over the dark web identity from another individual who had a reputation for selling lethal poisons. After making contact with the OCE, Le inquired, “this might sound blunt but do you sell ricin?”

Following that initial contact, Le exchanged a series of messages with the OCE concerning his efforts to purchase ricin. During these messages, Le confirmed his understanding of the lethal nature of ricin, revealed his intent to resell the ricin to at least one secondary buyer, proposed that the OCE conceal the ricin in a single pill in an otherwise ordinary bottle of pills and indicated a desire to obtain more ricin in the future. Le’s messages to the OCE included the following:

• “If [the ricin’s] good quality, I’ve already had buyers lining up.”

• “Does ricin have antidote? Last I check there isn’t one, isn’t it?”

• “Injection can be difficult to pull off. Ricin doesn’t work immediately. You wouldn’t expect the target to not fight back after being jabbed.”

• “The client would like to know . . . if it is wise to use ricin on someone who is hospitalized. . . . Injection will leave needle holes on the body which could be found in regular forensic examination. But hospitalized people already have needles in them so it wouldn’t be suspicious. Thing is, would ricin make the death look like someone succumbed to the injuries after an accident and didn’t make it through? In that case then, a little anethestical [sic] gas in the target’s car, get him drowsy when driving, get into an accident, and then kill him in the hospital bed.”

• “I probably told you this before, about mixing one and only one toxic pill into a bottle of normal pills. They all look identical. And as the target takes the medicine every day, sooner or later he’d ingest that poisonous pill and die. Even if there is a murder investigation, they won’t find any more toxin. 100% Risk Free.”

• “If you can make them into simple and easy death pills, they’d become bestsellers.”

• “I’ll be trying out new methods in the future. After all, it is death itself we’re selling here, and the more risk-free, the more efficient we can make it, the better.”

• “Also, besides that one bottle of pills with one poisonous pill in there, can you send some extra loose powder/liquid ricin? I’d like to test something.”

Moreover, during these exchanges, Le revealed to the OCE that he had a specific victim in mind: “someone middle-aged. Weight around 200 lbs.”

On Dec. 18, 2014, Le directed the OCE to send a quantity of ricin addressed to the name of an individual whose stolen identity Le had assumed at a particular postal box in Manhattan. On Dec. 22, 2014, the FBI prepared a mock shipment of ricin that was consistent with Le’s request to the OCE. The sham shipment included a fake ricin tablet concealed in a pill bottle, and a quantity of loose fake ricin powder. The next day, the sham shipment was delivered to the postal box. Le, wearing latex gloves, retrieved the sham shipment, opened it and took the contents to his apartment.

When FBI agents entered Le’s apartment to arrest him and search the apartment pursuant to a search warrant, they saw the pill bottle open in his apartment. The agents also recovered from Le’s apartment an envelope containing castor seeds from which Ricin can be produced. The agents further observed that Le’s computer was open to the online account that he had used to communicate with the OCE and to Le’s personal email account.

Le was arrested in New York on Dec. 23, 2014, and was later convicted at trial of one count of attempting to possess a biological toxin for use as a weapon, one count of using a fictitious name in furtherance of unlawful business involving the mail and one count of aggravated identity theft during and in relation to a terrorism offense. In addition to the prison term, Le was sentenced to five years of supervised release.

Assistant Attorney General Carlin joined U.S. Attorney Bharara in praising the outstanding investigative efforts of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

This prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ilan Graff and Andrew D. Beaty of the Southern District of New York and Trial Attorney Joseph Kaster of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

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