Counterterrorism

Domestic Terrorism Prosecutions: From Mississippi to Upstate New York

By Nora Ellingsen
Tuesday, August 16, 2016, 9:57 AM

Last Thursday, two material support defendants had important dates in federal district court. In the Northern District of Mississippi, Jaelyn Delshaun Young was sentenced to 12 years in prison for conspiring to provide material support to ISIL. Meanwhile, in the Western District of New York, Emanuel L. Lutchman pleaded guilty to the same charge.

According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, Young, a rare female terrorism defendant, was charged with conspiring with Muhammad Oda Dakhlalla, her “hijjrah partner” and husband, to join ISIL. The FBI originally identified Young in May 2015 due to her support of ISIL on social media. Although she told an online undercover employee that her Muslim community did not support the designated terrorism organization, she subsequently proclaimed her desire to travel overseas and join the group. Nineteen years old at the time of her arrest, Young touted her skills to purported ISIL members online: “I am skilled in math and chemistry and worked at an analytical lab here at my college campus.”

In early June, Young and Dakhlalla got married—giving them a viable cover as newlyweds travelling to Greece on their honeymoon. After a short passport-related delay, Young and Dakhlalla attempted to leave the United States but were stopped and interviewed by the FBI at the airport in Columbus, Mississippi. The couple confessed they were traveling overseas to join ISIL and were subsequently arrested. According to the Justice Department’s press release, Dakhlalla will be sentenced on August 24th.

Meanwhile, far from the Deep South in New York state, Lutchman pleaded guilty to material support charges, after being arrested on December 30, 2015, according to the Justice Department’s press release. The complaint alleges that Lutchman attempted to commit an armed attack against civilians at a restaurant and bar located in the Rochester area on New Year’s Eve on behalf of ISIL. In the statement of facts, Lutchman admitted that he believed conducting this attack would help him gain membership into ISIL when he later travelled overseas to join the designated terrorist organization. Additionally, Lutchman admitted that he initiated contact with ISIL member “Al-Amriki” on December 25th and that Al-Amriki encouraged him to conduct an attack only six days later. Lutchman quickly devised a plan to kidnap and kill several people in a bar, going to far as to purchase weapons and supplies for the attack and later making a video pledging allegiance to ISIL. Lutchman was arrested by the FBI one day prior to his planned attack and will be sentenced on November 15, 2016.

Not to be left out, the Midwest also saw some action on the domestic terror prosecution front in the past couple of weeks. On the morning of August 4th, Erick Jamal Hendricks, 35, was arrested on a federal complaint charging him with conspiring to provide material support to ISIL, according to the Justice Department’s press release. Although hailing from Charlotte, North Carolina, Hendricks was charged in the Northern District of Ohio. This past month has been a busy one for the Ohio—last week, Christopher Cornell pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIL in the Southern District of Ohio.

The complaint covers only three months—March, April and May 2015. The government’s account abruptly concludes more than a full year before Hendricks is charged, leaving the reader to wonder what exactly Hendricks and the FBI have been up to in the meantime. However, according to the complaint, those three months were more than enough to keep Hendricks busy. He managed to recruit an individual who would later be arrested on material support charges in June 2015 before beginning to cooperate with the government. The government alleges that Hendricks provided advice to others on social media applications, instructing recruits how to best avoid law enforcement detection online. His social media contacts included several FBI sources, one FBI undercover employee, as well as ISIL members located overseas. He went so far during those months as to travel to Baltimore to meet with an FBI source, directing the source to recruit more individuals.

Unlike many previous terrorism subjects who, like Young, were charged with material support after attempting to travel or providing material resources to ISIL, Hendricks focused almost exclusively on recruiting other individuals to conduct attacks within the United States.

Although other subjects—including Cornell—also discussed the possibility of conducting an attack closer to home, Hendricks’ goals were among the loftiest. In May 2015, he told an FBI source that his goal was to create a sleeper cell whose members would be trained and housed in a secured compound. In one conversation with an FBI source he indicated he had land in Arkansas to be used for this purpose and later claimed to already have 10 members signed up. The cell, as Hendricks described it, would be used to conduct attacks in the United States, targeting military members whose information had been released by ISIL and Pamela Geller, the organizer of the Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest.

It’s no surprise that Geller made the list—according to the complaint, Hendricks previously communicated via social media with Elton Simpson, one of the two men who were killed during their attack on the Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest. Hendricks is not the first FBI subject to be charged in connection with the attack however. Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem was found guilty in March 2016 of five crimes including conspiracy to provide material support to ISIL. Nader Elhuzayel, who was also found guilty by a federal jury, tweeted his support of the attack after seeing Simpson’s tweet pledging allegiance to ISIL. Hendricks currently faces a statutory maximum of 15 years in prison.