nationalsecuritylaw with apologies for the delay, here are a number of recent DOJ terrorism-related case developments

March 24, 2018

A number of backlogged case reports, all text from DOJ press releases:

1. United States v. Alahmedalabdaloklah (D. Arizona) (Mar. 17, 2018) (jury conviction of Syrian citizen involved in IED attacks on US soldiers in Iraq)

Today, Ahmed Alahmedalabdaloklah, a Syrian national who had been living in Iraq, was convicted by a jury, following a six-week trial, of conspiring and supporting the 1920s Revolutionary Brigades, an insurgent group that planted road-side bombs to attack and kill American soldiers in Iraq. A jury convicted Alahmedalabdaloklah on Conspiracy to Use a Weapon of Mass Destruction, Conspiring to Maliciously Damage or Destroy United States Property by Means of an Explosive, Aiding and Abetting Other Persons to Possess a Destructive Device in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence, and Conspiracy to Possess a Destructive Device in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence. Sentencing is set for June 5, 2018 before District Judge Roslyn O. Silver.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, Elizabeth A. Strange, First Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Arizona, and Michael Deleon, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Phoenix Field Office, made the announcement.

“Alahmedalabdaloklah conspired with a violent Iraqi insurgent group to kill American soldiers in Iraq,” said First Assistant Strange. “Today’s verdict underscores our commitment to use every available resource to bring justice to American soldiers who were killed or injured by such terrorist acts. I commend the FBI and the prosecution team for their tremendous efforts in securing this conviction.”

"The FBI’s highest priority is preventing acts; both in the United States and abroad," said Phoenix FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael DeLeon. "We want to thank the Department of Justice and the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, agents, analysts, and both local and foreign partners for working together to bring Ahmed Alahmedalabdaloklah to justice. This is a prime example of the FBI’s commitment to pursuing justice even in the most complex and difficult cases. The FBI also wants to voice our sympathy and condolences to the victims, their families and friends. The FBI will continue our mission of preventing terrorist acts and pursuing those who plan to do us harm. "

Between 2006 and 2011, United States soldiers were deployed to Iraq to support the fledgling Iraqi government and to provide security to the Iraqi people. Multiple insurgent groups, including the 1920 Revolution Brigades (“1920s”), opposed the Iraqi government and committed violent acts in an effort to destabilize Iraq and expel American forces from the country. American soldiers faced daily attacks from snipers, small team ambushes, and deadly improvised explosive devices (“IEDs”) planted along major military supply routes.

Alahmedalabdaloklah supported the 1920s by designing, making, and supplying parts for remote-controlled IED initiator switches for roadside bombs. In August 2006, during a search and seizure weapons clearing mission, American soldiers located an apartment in Baghdad that had been converted into an IED switch-making factory. Soldiers seized numerous items used to detonate IEDs, including receivers, transmitters, cell phones, key fobs, modified hands-free headsets, and ready-to-use IED switches. Over a thousand finger and palm prints belonging to Alahmedalabdaloklah were discovered on the items found there, including instructions for making IEDs.

The investigation in this case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The prosecution was handled by Trial Attorney Joseph Kaster from the National Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Pimsner, Melissa Karlen, and Bill Solomon, from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona.

2. United States v. Ftouhi (E.D. Mich. March 21, 2018) (additional charge involving transnational terrorism)

Amor M. Ftouhi, 50, of Montreal, Canada, who was previously indicted in July 2017, for charges relating to an attack on a Bishop Airport officer in Flint, Michigan, was charged today with an additional offense of committing an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider for the Eastern District of Michigan and Acting Special Agent in Charge Jeffery E. Peterson of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office made the announcement.

United States Attorney Schneider stated, “This additional terrorism charge against Mr. Ftouhi shows we will — to the fullest extent of the law — vigorously prosecute terrorists who seek to harm the people of Michigan.”

"Today’s superseding indictment is a clear example of the work done by the Detroit Field Office’s Joint Terrorism Task Force to hold accountable those who seek to harm U.S. citizens on behalf of a foreign terrorist group. The indictment speaks to the collaborative efforts of law enforcement and intelligence professionals at the state, local and federal level, as well as the FBI’s close relationship with our international partners in Canada," said Jeffery E. Peterson, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Detroit Division of the FBI.

According to court records, Mr. Ftouhi entered the United States from Canada for the purpose of killing government personnel in the United States. Before entering the United States on June 16, 2017, while in Canada, Mr. Ftouhi conducted online research of American gun laws and for gun shows in Michigan. Mr. Ftouhi subsequently traveled to Michigan where he was unsuccessful in purchasing a gun and purchased a knife instead. On June 20, 2017, Mr. Ftouhi walked up to the victim, who is a lieutenant with the Bishop Airport Authority and was in full uniform, and stabbed the police officer in the neck with a knife. Mr. Ftouhi referenced killings in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and yelled “Allahu Akbar.” After his arrest, Mr. Ftouhi told law enforcement that he was a “soldier of Allah” and subscribed to the ideology of al-Qaeda and Usama bin Laden.

Ftouhi will be arraigned on the new indictment in federal court in Flint. The defendant faces a statutory maximum sentence of life in prison. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. Any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. The charges contained in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, with assistance from the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

3. United States v. Hendricks (N.D. Ohio March 20, 2018) (jury conviction in ISIS material support case)

Erick Jamal Hendricks, 37, of Charlotte, North Carolina, was convicted today by a jury in Akron, Ohio, of attempting and conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist organization.

The guilty verdict was announced by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney Justin E. Herdman of the Northern District of Ohio and Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony of the FBI’s Cleveland Office following a two-week trial before U.S. District Judge John Adams.

“Hendricks used social media to recruit others to plan and carry out attacks on our homeland in the name of ISIS, with the goal of creating a sleeper cell on our soil,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers. “Thanks to the collaborative efforts of law enforcement, Hendricks’ plan was thwarted, and with today’s verdict he is being held accountable for his terrorist activities.”

“This defendant recruited and directed people here in the United States to launch attacks against our citizens, and attempted to recruit others to engage in similar attacks,” said U.S. Attorney Herdman. “Protecting our citizens from terrorist attacks remains our priority and our community will be safer with this defendant behind bars.”

“Erick Jamal Hendricks represents the significant online ISIS threat that we face daily – a US citizen that becomes radicalized online and attempts to recruit and train individuals to commit jihad, all while on American soil,” said Special Agent in Charge Anthony. “The FBI urges the public to report information regarding individuals pledging their allegiance to ISIS or other identified terrorist groups. The FBI is pleased that Hendricks was stopped before he was successful and now will spend a significant amount of time behind bars.”

According to court documents and trial testimony, Hendricks tried to recruit people to train together and conduct terrorist attacks in the United States on behalf of ISIS.

Amir Al-Ghazi was arrested in the Northern District of Ohio in June 2015 after attempting to purchase an AK-47 assault rifle and ammunition from an undercover law enforcement officer. Al-Ghazi had pledged allegiance to ISIS in social media and made statements expressing interest in conducting attacks in the U.S.

Hendricks had contacted Al-Ghazi over social media to recruit him in the spring of 2015. Hendricks allegedly told Al-Ghazi that he “needed people” and wanted to meet in person; that there were several “brothers” located in Texas and Mexico; that he was attempting to “get brothers to meet face to face;” and that he wanted “to get brothers to train together,” according to court documents and trial testimony

Al-Ghazi said Hendricks tested his religious knowledge and commitment, inquiring about his willingness to commit “jihad,” to die as a “martyr” and his desire to enter “jannah” (paradise). Al-Ghazi understood these statements to mean that Hendricks was recruiting people to train together for the purpose of conducting a terrorist attack in the U.S. and to see if Al-Ghazi was suitable for recruitment, according to the allegations. Al-Ghazi believed that Hendricks and the “brothers in Texas and Mexico” may have been responsible for a thwarted terrorist attack in Garland, Texas, on May 3, 2015, and therefore he decided to stay away from social media for a period following the attack to minimize detection by law enforcement.

Hendricks also communicated over social media with several other people, including an undercover FBI employee (UCE-1). Hendricks on April 16, 2015 instructed UCE-1 to download the document “GPS for the Ghuraba in the U.S.”, which included a section entitled “Final Advice” which advocated that “brothers and sisters” should not allow themselves to go to jail. This section also allegedly encouraged Muslims to die as a “Shaheed” (martyr), to “Boobie trap your homes,” to “lay in wait for them” and to “never leave your home without your AK-47 or M16.” Hendricks also directed UCE-1 to communicate online with other people and stated “It’s hard to sift through brothers;” “Allah chooses only the few;” and “Everyday I do this day in and day out,” according to court documents and trial testimony.

Hendricks told another person that his goal was to create a sleeper cell to be trained and housed at a secure compound that would conduct attacks in the U.S. He mentioned that potential targets included military members whose information had been released by ISIS and the woman who organized the “Draw Prophet Mohammad contest,” and he claimed to have 10 members signed up for his group, according court documents and trial testimony.

On April 23, 2015, Hendricks used social media to contact Elton Simpson, who, along with Nadir Hamid Soofi, was inspired by ISIS and launched the attack on the “First Annual Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest” in Garland. Simpson and Soofi opened fire, wounding a security guard, before Garland police returned fire and killed both Simpson and Soofi. Hendricks also connected UCE-1 with Simpson via social media, communicated with UCE-1 about the contest in Garland, and directed UCE-1 to go to the contest. Hendricks said: “If you see that pig (meaning the organizer of the contest) make your ‘voice’ heard against her.” He also asked UCE-1 a series of questions related to security at the event, including: “How big is the gathering?” “How many ppl?” “How many police/agents?” “Do you see feds there?’ “Do you see snipers?” and “How many media?” Shortly thereafter, Simpson and Soofi committed the attack on the cartoon drawing contest.

Al-Ghazi previously pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization and being a felon in possession of firearms. He is awaiting sentencing.

Hendricks’ sentencing has yet to be scheduled.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s offices in Cleveland; Columbia, South Carolina; Baltimore; and Charlotte, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the District of Maryland, District of South Carolina and the Western District of North Carolina.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew W. Shepherd and Mark S. Bennett and Trial Attorney Rebecca Magnone of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

4. United States v. Solano (S.D. Fla. Mar. 15, 2018) (guilty plea in ISIS material support case)

Vicente Adolfo Solano, 53, a citizen of Honduras residing in Miami, pleaded guilty yesterday to attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist organization.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, Benjamin G. Greenberg, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Robert F. Lasky, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, made the announcement.

Solano pleaded guilty yesterday to one count of attempting to provide material support to ISIS, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2339B(a)(1). Sentencing is set for May 30, 2018, at 9:15 a.m. before United States District Judge Paul C. Huck in Miami. Solano faces a statutory maximum sentence of twenty years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

According to the stipulated factual basis filed with the Court, in early 2017, Solano told an individual, who later became a Confidential Human Source (“CHS”) for the government, that he was upset with the United States and wanted to conduct an attack in Miami. Later, Solano told this CHS that he wanted to join ISIS.

Solano planned to place and detonate an explosive device in a crowded area of a popular Miami mall. Solano discussed his plot with the CHS and two undercover FBI employees. According to the complaint, Solano provided three videos to the CHS, in which Solano makes pro-ISIS statements and expresses anti-U.S. sentiments. Just prior to his arrest, Solano took possession of what he believed was an explosive device, took steps to arm it, and walked toward a mall entrance in order to carry out his attack. Unbeknownst to Solano, the device was inert and did not pose a risk to the public. Solano was taken into custody prior to entering the Mall.

Mr. Greenberg and Mr. Demers commended the investigative efforts of the FBI and the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Karen E. Gilbert and Department of Justice Counterterrorism Section Trial Attorney Jolie Zimmerman.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

5. United States v. Lepsky (D.N.J. Mar. 13, 2018) (guilty pleas in ISIS-related case)

A Point Pleasant, New Jersey, man today admitted that he planned to construct and use a pressure cooker bomb in New York on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito and Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers announced.

Gregory Lepsky, 20, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Michael Shipp in Trenton federal court to an information charging him with one count of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, specifically ISIS.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

On Feb. 21, 2017, Lepsky was arrested by the Point Pleasant Police Department in connection with an incident that occurred that day in his family’s home. Following the arrest, law enforcement officers searched the residence and found a new pressure cooker stored behind a roll of bubble wrap in Lepsky’s bedroom closet.

During searches of computers and other digital evidence linked to Lepsky, law enforcement officers found evidence of Lepsky’s plan to build and detonate a bomb as part of his support for ISIS. During several social media communications, Lepsky told others that he intended to fight on behalf of ISIS and that he would, if necessary, become a martyr by driving a “bunch of explosives” to where the “enemies” could be found and blowing himself up.

Law enforcement officers also located a series of instructions that had been published online by another terrorist group that gave specific, step-by-step instructions on how to build a pressure cooker bomb, which coincided with the delivery of the pressure cooker to Lepsky a short time before his arrest. In addition, law enforcement officers recovered a message forwarded by Lepsky from another ISIS supporter stating that if a westerner could not travel to Syria to fight for ISIS, he could conduct a terrorist attack in his home country using improvised explosive devices.

During today’s plea hearing, Lepsky admitted that beginning in January 2017, he began to formulate a plan to detonate the pressure cooker bomb in New York City on behalf of ISIS. Lepsky admitted that he used the internet to access ISIS directives, obtain bomb-making instructions, and purchase the pressure cooker and other items to be used in the attack.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, if accepted by the Court, Lepsky will be given a sentence between 16 and 19 years in prison and a lifetime term of supervised release. Sentencing is scheduled for June 19, 2018.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito and Assistant Attorney General Demers credited the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher in Newark; the N.J. State Attorney General’s Office under the direction of Attorney General Gurbir Grewal; the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Prosecutor Joseph Coronato; the Point Pleasant Police Department under the direction of Chief Richard P. Larsen; and the N.J. Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness under the direction of Director Jared Maples, with the investigation.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney James Donnelly of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Newark and Trial Attorney Justin Sher of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

Defense counsel: Lisa Mack Esq., Assistant Federal Public Defender, Newark

6. United States v. al Farekh (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 13, 2018) (45-year sentence for defendant directly involved with al Qaeda and attacks on US forces in Afghanistan)

Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh, 32, of Houston, was sentenced today to 45 years following his Sept. 29, 2017 trial conviction of multiple offenses covering seven years of terrorist conduct, including conspiracy to murder American military personnel in Afghanistan, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, conspiracy to bomb a government facility and providing material support to al-Qaeda.

Assistant Attorney General for the National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue for the Eastern District of New York, Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney, Jr. of the FBI’s New York Field Office and Commissioner James P. O’Neill of the NYPD announced the sentence issued by U.S. District Judge Brian M. Cogan.

“With the sentence handed down today, al Qaeda terrorist Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh is being held accountable for his crimes. Farekh – an American citizen – traveled overseas, joined al Qaeda, and conspired to kill Americans, including through an attack using explosive devices on a U.S. military installation in Afghanistan in 2009,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers. “Across the globe, the National Security Division will continue to relentlessly pursue and bring to justice those who seek to harm Americans, including our brave servicemen and women who risk their lives in defense of our nation. I applaud the efforts of the many agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this successful result.”

“Farekh, a citizen of this country, turned his back on America by joining al-Qaeda and trying to kill American soldiers in a bomb attack on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.” stated United States Attorney Donoghue. “This case demonstrates that we will do everything in our power to ensure that those who seek to harm our country and our armed forces will be brought to justice.” Mr. Donoghue extended his grateful appreciation to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), which comprises a large number of federal, state, and local agencies from the region.

“Today’s sentencing shows that justice prevails even when terrorist acts are committed in distant foreign locales yet impact American citizens and interests,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney. “The FBI New York Joint Terrorism Task Force remains dedicated to investigating and bringing terrorists to justice wherever they are. I would like to thank all of our partner agencies for their continued cooperation and dedication.”

As proven at trial, in March 2007, Farekh and two co-conspirators, all of whom were students at the University of Manitoba, departed Canada for Pakistan with the intention of fighting against American forces overseas. Before traveling overseas, Farekh and his co-conspirators watched video recordings encouraging violent jihad, listened to jihadist lectures by now-deceased al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Anwar al-Awlaqi, and came to embrace a violent, extremist view of Islam.

Farekh and his co-conspirators traveled to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, an area in the northern part of Pakistan that borders Afghanistan and is home to al-Qaeda’s base of operations, where they joined and received training from al-Qaeda. Taking advantage of his familiarity with the West, Farekh became a member of, and ultimately ascended to, a leadership role within al-Qaeda’s external operations group, which specialized in planning and executing attacks against the U.S. and its Western allies.

In January 2009, Farekh helped to build a vehicle-borne, improvised explosive device (VBIED) that was used in an attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman (FOB Chapman), a U.S. military installation that served as the base for the U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team in Khost, Afghanistan. On January 19, 2009, two explosives-laden vehicles approached the fence line of FOB Chapman. At the gate, the first vehicle, a pickup-sized truck, exploded after its operator detonated the VBIED. The second vehicle, a truck that was carrying approximately 7,500 pounds of explosives, became stuck in the blast crater caused by the first explosion. The driver abandoned his vehicle without detonating the VBIED, and was shot and killed by local security personnel. The initial detonation of the first vehicle injured one U.S. serviceman and numerous Afghan nationals. Forensic technicians recovered 18 latent fingerprints that were determined to be a match to Farekh from adhesive packing tape used to bind together the explosive materials of the second, undetonated VBIED.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Richard M. Tucker, Douglas M. Pravda and Saritha Komatireddy of the Eastern District of New York, along with Trial Attorney Alicia Cook of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section, are in charge of the prosecution.

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