nationalsecuritylaw United States v. Musleh (S.D. Ind. June 21, 2016) (arrest in ISIS material support case)

June 21, 2016

An 18-year old man from Indiana wanting to go to Syria to join ISIS, now charged with attempting to provide himself to ISIS as personnel (remember, 18 USC 2339B in this respect functions as a prohibition on active membership in a designated foreign terrorist organization, as well as a ban on attempting or conspiring to become such a member). Details from the DOJ press release:

WASHINGTON – A Brownsburg, Indiana, man was arrested today for attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization.

The arrest was announced by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Josh J. Minkler of the Southern District of Indiana and Special Agent in Charge W. Jay Abbott of the FBI’s Indiana Division.

Akram Musleh, 18, was arrested by FBI agents while attempting to board a bus from Indianapolis to New York, where he was to fly to and transit through Morocco on his way to ISIL-controlled territory. The criminal complaint alleges that he planned to provide personnel (himself) to ISIL.

“According to the complaint, Musleh attempted to travel overseas to join ISIL and to provide material support to the designated terrorist organization,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “The National Security Division’s highest priority is countering terrorist threats, and we will continue to work to stem the flow of foreign fighters abroad and bring to justice those who attempt to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations.”

“The radicalization of American citizens by terrorist organizations like ISIL is a threat to our safety here and abroad,” said U.S. Attorney Minkler. “I am committed to using the full authority of the United States Attorney’s Office to identify, investigate and prosecute those that provide material support to terrorists. I would like to thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Brownsburg Police Department for working with us during this investigation. We will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners but as in this case, we rely heavily on the public’s assistance to help make our community safe.”

“Terrorism is the FBI’s number one priority and we work closely with our law enforcement partners to ensure the safety of our community,” said Special Agent in Charge Abbott. “This case demonstrates the value of law enforcement collaboration and community engagement.”

A criminal complaint is only a charge and not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven otherwise in federal court. If convicted, Musleh faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a lifetime of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.

This prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Bradley Shepard and Doris Pryor of the Southern District of Indiana and Trial Attorneys Paul Casey and Kiersten Korczynski of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

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nationalsecuritylaw United States v. Elhuzayel (C.D. Cal.) (convictions in ISIS material support case)

June 21, 2016

Yet another example in which it appears that social media posts helped identify would-be ISIS members. Note that this relates to ongoing pressure on the social media companies to suppress such postings. Interesting question what the investigative impact would be if those who might otherwise out themselves in this way cease to have those outlets. At any rate, details from the DOJ press release appear below:

WASHINGTON – A federal jury today convicted two Orange County, California, men – one of whom attempted to travel to the Middle East to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization – of conspiring to provide material support to ISIL.

The verdict was announced by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker of the Central District of California and Assistant Director in Charge Deirdre Fike of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.

Nader Elhuzayel, 25, and Muhanad Badawi, 25, both of Anaheim, California, were convicted today in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California following a two-week trial. Elhuzayel was found guilty of attempting to provide material support and Badawi was found guilty of aiding and abetting the attempt to provide material support to ISIL.

“Foreign terrorist fighters have traveled from countries around the world to join ISIL and are responsible for some of the most despicable acts of violence committed by the terrorist organization,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “ISIL depends on these travelers as a significant part of its fighting force. Stopping Americans from engaging in terrorist activity on behalf of ISIL here or abroad will remain one of the highest priorities of the National Security Division.”

“These two defendants betrayed their country and sought to join ISIL, a terrorist organization dedicated to brutally murdering innocent people,” said U.S. Attorney Decker. “The FBI and the Orange County Joint Terrorism Task Force did outstanding work in investigating and apprehending these men before their plans could be completed. The fine work of law enforcement undoubtedly saved lives, both in the United States and abroad.”

“These convictions are a message to those who aim to travel to take up arms with ISIL and to those who support them – the FBI and our partners are determined to thwart your efforts,” said Assistant Director in Charge Fike. “The JTTF’s proactive identification of these subjects and disruption of a terrorist conspiracy is a coup in the fight against the scourge of ISIL. At trial, the jury heard evidence that Mr. Badawi also encouraged other associates to support ISIL and participate in violent jihad. This is a reminder that our work is not done and the public must remain steadfast and report suspicious behavior, whether that behavior is carried out in person or online.”

In addition to the terrorism-related counts, Elhuzayel was found guilty of 26 counts of bank fraud and Badawi was found guilty of one count of federal financial aid fraud.

Both men were arrested on May 21, 2015, when Elhuzayel attempted to board a plane at Los Angeles International Airport to travel to Turkey to join ISIL. Badawi had purchased for Elhuzayel a one-way ticket to Israel with a layover in Istanbul.

Badawi and Elhuzayel used social media to discuss ISIL and terrorist attacks, expressed a desire to die as martyrs and made arrangements for Elhuzayel to leave the United States to join ISIL. In recorded conversations, Badawi and Elhuzayel discussed “how it would be a blessing to fight for the cause of Allah, and to die in the battlefield.”

The evidence at trial also showed that Badawi had a Facebook account, on which he made posts that supported ISIL and violence aimed at non-Muslims, and he said he intended to join the terrorist organization. Elhuzayel also had a Facebook account and used the ISIL flag as his profile picture. According to court documents, on Oct. 21, 2014, Badawi made a video of Elhuzayel in which Elhuzayel swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL, and pledged to travel to Syria to be an ISIL fighter.

Elhuzayel was convicted of obtaining cash through a scheme to defraud three different banks by depositing stolen checks into his personal checking accounts and then withdrawing cash at branch offices and ATMs in Orange County. The money generated from the bank fraud was to finance his travel to Syria to join ISIL.

Badawi was convicted of using his federal financial aid to purchase a plane ticket for Elhuzayel to travel to Turkey.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter of the Central District of California scheduled Elhuzayel’s sentencing hearing for Sept. 19, 2016, and Badawi’s sentencing hearing for Sept. 26, 2016.

At the time of sentencing, Elhuzayel will face a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in prison on each bank fraud count, Badawi faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison on the financial aid fraud count and both men each face a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in prison on each material support count.

Both men have been held in federal custody without bond since their arrests.

The investigation in this case was conducted by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Orange County, which includes the following agencies: the Anaheim Police Department; the California Highway Patrol; the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; the Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations; the U.S. Secret Service; IRS-Criminal Investigation; the City of Orange, California, Police Department; the Irvine, California, Police Department; the Naval Criminal Investigative Service; and the Orange County Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory. The Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General provided substantial assistance in the investigation.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Judith A. Heinz, Deirdre Z. Eliot and Julius J. Nam of the Central District of California, with assistance from Trial Attorney Michael Dittoe of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

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nationalsecuritylaw United States v. Ferizi (E.D.Va. June 15, 2016) (guilty plea in ISIS hacker case)

June 20, 2016

(This is from five days ago…) Details from the press release below:

WASHINGTON – Ardit Ferizi, aka Th3Dir3ctorY, 20, a citizen of Kosovo, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkemaof the Eastern District of Virginia to providing material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization, and accessing a protected computer without authorization and obtaining information.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia, Assistant Director in Charge Paul M. Abbate of the FBI’s Washington Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Michelle S. Klimt of the FBI’s Jacksonville, Florida, Division made the announcement.

“Ferizi admitted to stealing the personally identifiable information of over 1,000 U.S. servicemembers and federal employees, and providing it to ISIL with the understanding that they would incite terrorist attacks against those individuals,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “The case against Ferizi is the first of its kind, representing the nexus of the terror and cyber threats. The National Security Division will continue to use an all-tools approach to combat this ever-evolving blended threat, and we will identify, disrupt and prosecute any individual who provides material support to ISIL, no matter how they do so.”

“Ferizi endangered the lives of over 1,000 Americans,” said U.S. Attorney Boente. “Cyber terrorism has become an increasingly prevalent and serious threat here in America, both to individuals and businesses. However, cyber terrorist are no different from other terrorists: No matter where they hide, we will track them down and seek to bring them to the United States to face justice.”

“Ardit Ferizi launched a cyberattack to gain access to the identities of U.S. military personnel, which he shared with members of ISIL in an attempt to incite terror attacks,” said Assistant Director in Charge Abbate. “No matter how a person supports a terrorist group like ISIL, whether on the battlefield or in the cyber world, the FBI will identify, disrupt and bring them to justice for placing lives at risk.”

“This case demonstrates the importance of strong partnerships with law enforcement agencies worldwide,” said Special Agent in Charge Michelle S. Klimt. “Cybercrime knows no boundaries and our efforts to dismantle these operations would be impossible without international collaboration. The FBI will continue to vigorously investigate these crimes and work with our international partners to track down and arrest those who steal from our nation and citizens.”

Ferizi, who was detained by Malaysian authorities on a provisional arrest warrant on behalf of the United States, was charged by criminal complaint on Oct. 6, 2015. The criminal complaint was unsealed on Oct. 15, 2015. Ferizi subsequently waived extradition.

Ferizi admitted that on or about June 13, 2015, he gained administrator-level access to a server that maintained the website of a victim company located in the United States, which also contained databases with personally identifiable information (PII) belonging to tens of thousands of the victim company’s customers. Between June and August 2015, Ferizi provided unlawfully-obtained PII to ISIL member Junaid Hussain, aka Abu Hussain al-Britani, he admitted. According to the statement of facts, on Aug. 11, 2015, in the name of the Islamic State Hacking Division (ISHD), Hussain posted a tweet that contained a document with the PII of approximately 1,300 U.S. military and other personnel that Ferizi had taken from the victim company and provided to Hussain. The document stated, in part, that “we are in your emails and computer systems, watching and recording your every move, we have your names and addresses, we are in your emails and social media accounts, we are extracting confidential data and passing on your personal information to the soldiers of the khilafah, who soon with the permission of Allah will strike at your necks in your own lands!” Ferizi admitted that he provided the PII to ISIL with the understanding that ISIL would use the PII to “hit them hard.”

At sentencing on Sept. 16, 2016, Ferizi faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for providing material support to ISIL and a maximum sentence of five years for accessing a protected computer without authorization and obtaining information. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. As part of the plea, Ferizi also agreed to a stipulated order of removal to Kosovo, his country of citizenship, upon completion of his criminal sentence.

The FBI’s Washington Field Office and Jacksonville Division investigated the case. The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Van Grack of the Eastern District of Virginia and Trial Attorney Gregory Gonzalez of the National Security Division’s (NSD) Counterterrorism Section, with assistance from Trial Attorney Vincent A. Citro of NSD’s Counterterrorism Section and Trial Attorney Matthew Walczewski of NSD’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section. The Malaysian authorities and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs also provided significant assistance.


nationalsecuritylaw United States v. Khweis (E.D. Va. June 9, 2016) (charges against US man who joined ISIL and was captured in Iraq)

June 13, 2016

The criminal complaint is attached, and the press release appears below. Note: This is a high-profile case, as the individual allegedly did in fact get to Syria and join up with ISIL, and was captured there by the Kurds.

WASHINGTON – In a criminal complaint unsealed in the Eastern District of Virginia today, Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 26, of Alexandria, Virginia, was charged with providing and conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization.

The complaint was announced by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia and Assistant Director in Charge Paul M. Abbate of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

Khweis was detained by Kurdish Peshmerga military forces on March 14, 2016 in northern Iraq after leaving an ISIL-controlled neighborhood in Tal Afar, Iraq. According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, Khweis admitted to renting a car in Alexandria and flying out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport to begin his travel to join ISIL in mid-December 2015. His travel included stops in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands before ultimately crossing into Syria through Turkey with the help of ISIL facilitators. Khweis admitted that he stayed in an ISIL safe house in Raqqa, Syria, with other ISIL recruits who were going through an intake process, and at one point during the intake process, answered yes when asked by ISIL if he would be a suicide bomber. Khweis also admitted to participating in ISIL-directed religious training for nearly one month in preparation for his service to ISIL.

Khweis will have his initial appearance at the federal courthouse in Alexandria today at 2 p.m. EDT before U.S. Magistrate Judge John F. Anderson of the Eastern District of Virginia.

This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Fitzpatrick of the Eastern District of Virginia and Trial Attorney Raj Parekh of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

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Khweis Complaint.pdf


nationalsecuritylaw United States v. Teaussant (E.D. Cal. June 7, 2016) (12-year sentence in ISIS support case)

June 8, 2016

WASHINGTON – Nicholas Michael Teausant, 22, of Acampo, California, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez of the Eastern District of California to 12 years in prison for attempting to provide material support to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization, announced Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin and Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert of the Eastern District of California.

According to court documents, on March 17, 2014, Teausant was arrested traveling to Canada, near the border, with the intent of continuing to travel to Syria to join ISIL. On March 26, 2014, Teausant was indicted on one count of attempting to provide material support or resources to a terrorist organization. He pleaded guilty to the single count in the indictment without a plea agreement. In addition to the prison term, Judge Mendez also sentenced Teausant to 25 years of supervised release.

“With this sentence, Nicholas Michael Teausant will be held accountable for attempting to travel overseas to join ISIL and to provide material support to the designated terrorist organization,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “The National Security Division’s highest priority is countering terrorist threats, and we will continue to work to stem the flow of foreign fighters abroad and bring to justice those who attempt to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations.”

“Mr. Teausant was fixated on violence as documented by his social media posts, his pre-arrest statements, and the nature of the group he attempted to join,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Talbert. “His conduct was misguided and unacceptable. We appreciate the court’s thoughtful consideration of this case and its recognition of the seriousness of the offense. With the assistance of our investigative partners, we will continue to vigorously prosecute those who seek to provide material support to terrorist organizations.”

This case was the result of an investigation by the FBI; the Modesto, California, Police Department; and the San Joaquin, California, Sheriff’s Office, who are members of the Modesto/Stockton Joint Terrorism Task Force, with significant assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jean M. Hobler and Jason Hitt of the Eastern District of California and Trial Attorney Andrew Sigler of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

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