International Terrorism Prosecutions: ISIL Trials Across the Nation

By Nora Ellingsen
Friday, February 17, 2017, 12:00 PM

In recent weeks, ISIL sympathizers have wound their way through the court system across the country from Arizona to Florida.

On February 8th in the District of Arizona, Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem was sentenced to 30 years in prison and lifetime supervised release, according to the Justice Department’s press release. In connection with the attack in Garland, Texas in May 2015, Abdul Kareem was convicted of multiple offenses—conspiring to provide material support to ISIL, conspiring to and actually transporting firearms and ammunition in interstate commerce with the intent to commit murder and aggravated assault, making false statements to the FBI, and being a felon in possession of a firearm—by a federal jury in March 2016. Abdul Kareem’s sentencing marks the end of a case that included not only a rare terrorism trial, but the first jury trial involving a homeland attack committed in the name of ISIL.

According to the evidence presented at trial, Abdul Kareem conspired to support ISIL with two of his friends: Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi. In a culmination of their plan, Simpson and Soofi drove across New Mexico to the Dallas, Texas area in May 2015 and opened fire on an event featuring cartoon imagines of the Prophet Muhammad. Visual depictions of the Prophet are generally considered to be impermissible, and offensive and cartoon publications have led to controversy, sometimes culminating in violence: The Telegraph includes a helpful timeline. Shortly after firing their weapons both men were shot and killed by law enforcement.

As is not uncommon, the FBI came under scrutiny after the attack, partially due to a prior FBI investigation of Simpson and FBI presence at the scene. As I mentioned several weeks ago, Elton Simpson was charged with lying to federal agents in 2011, but was only sentenced to three years probation. During the trial, the government also released information than an undercover FBI agent, who had previously been in contact with Simpson, was at the exhibit when the attack took place. However, the judge noted that Simpson had not told the FBI agent of his plans to conduct the attack.

While Abdul Kareem did not participate in the attack, he was involved in the attack preparations, and provided both men with firearms training, as well as money to buy weapons and ammunition. Later, he lied to the FBI about having prior knowledge of the attack.

Two other subjects charged in connection with attacks on U.S. soil also found themselves in court over the past two weeks. Noor Salman, charged recently with material support in connection with her husband’s Orlando nightclub attack, attended her bond hearing on February 1st at a courthouse in Oakland, California. According to SFGate, prosecutors from the Middle District of Florida detailed their case for the first time at the hearing. Salman was aware that Mateen was planning an attack, the government alleges, and prior to the attack helped him canvass locations. The couple also prepared for his death, making sure Salman has access to all financial accounts. On the other hand, the defense team portrayed their client as a victim of domestic abuse and argued that the FBI coercively interrogated her following the attack despite her diminished mental capacity.

Meanwhile, six hours south on I-5, Enrique Marquez Jr., who was indicted on material support charges in the Central District of California in connection with the San Bernardino attack, appeared in court on February 4th. According to the Los Angeles Times, Marquez pleaded not guilty to all charges in January and had been scheduled to go on trial on February 23rd. Following a request from both the government and the defense, the court postponed the trial until July 19th.

However, on Tuesday, the Justice Department announced that Marquez agreed to plead guilty to conspiring with Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the San Bernardino attackers, to provide material support to terrorists. The material support charges actually weren’t related to the San Bernardino attack, but to several plots a few years earlier. According to the statement of facts accompanying the plea agreement, Marquez and Farook conspired to attack Riverside Community College and the 91 Freeway in 2011 and 2012. The men planned to throw pipe bombs into the cafeteria at the College, as well as onto the freeway during rush hour. Marquez also pled guilty to making false statements to federal agents after he lied about purchasing two assault rifles for Farook that were used in the 2015 San Bernardino shooting.

Across the country, but also in warmer climates, another ISIL sympathizer was convicted at trial.

On January 31st, in the Southern District of Florida, Harlem Suarez was convicted by a federal jury of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, specifically, an explosive device, and providing material support to ISIL, according to the Justice Department’s press release. The Miami Herald reported that the 23-year-old naturalized citizen was born in Cuba, and immigrated to the United States when he was eleven years old.

Notably, Suarez is the only immigrant out of the seven ISIL sympathizers included in this post. As Rick Houghton wrote last week, President Trump recently signed three executive orders on law enforcement focusing on illegal immigration and crime perpetrated by unlawful aliens. For that reason, it’s probably worth noting that Suarez and his parents immigrated legally to the United States.

According to the complaint, Suarez popped on to the FBI’s radar after a concerned citizen notified the police that she received a Facebook friend request from Suarez and was alarmed at the radical nature of his Facebook posts. The police passed the information to the FBI, and soon an FBI source initiated contact with Suarez via Facebook. As their relationship progressed, Suarez told the source that he wanted to make a “timers bomb,” but that he needed instructions and additional recruits. He also mentioned that he was trying to travel to Syria, but couldn’t get in contact with anyone from ISIL. In May 2015, Suarez legally purchased an AK-47 online, using his true name and address. However, he incorrectly filled out the paperwork and was not allowed to take possession of the firearm.

Later, the source introduced Suarez to an FBI undercover agent, a presumed ISIL sympathizer who could supply Suarez with explosive devices. Suarez described his ideal attack to the undercover agent—a 4th of July attack on the beach that would result in mass casualties. In order to help the undercover build the backpack bomb needed for his attach, Suarez purchased and gave him two boxes of galvanized nails, a pre-paid cell phone and a backpack. His plan, he told him, was to bury the backpack bomb on a public beach, and detonate it remotely with the cell phone. The FBI agent did make Suarez a bomb, although unbeknownst to him, it was inert, and Suarez was arrested by the FBI shortly after he took possession.

The trial lasted for seven days, according to the Miami Herald, although the jury only deliberated for 90 minutes before returning a guilty verdict. The Florida Keys News reported that Suarez testified during the trial, claiming that he was entrapped by the government and that he was only playing along with the men he believed to be extremists but would turn out to work for the FBI. He claimed his actions merely reflected an interest in ISIL, but didn’t stand up to the government’s cross-examination: “Why?" the prosecutor asked. "Were you doing a book report?”

Moving up the east coast, two men pleaded guilty in federal district court in New York last week. Munther Omar Saleh and Fareed Mumuni, both U.S. citizens, pleaded guilty to conspiring and attempting to provide material support to ISIL, along with assaulting and conspiring to assault federal officers and attempted murder of federal officers. Mumuni also pleaded guilty to attempted murder of federal officers, according to the Justice Department’s press release.

According to the government, both men helped their co-conspirators, including Nader Saadeh, in their attempted travel to Syria to join ISIL. They also spoke with ISIL members overseas who encouraged the men to conduct a pressure-cooker style attack in New York City. In June 2015, Saleh, who was armed with a knife, charged at a federal officer who was conducting surveillance of Saleh, and was subsequently arrested. Several days later, the FBI executed a search warrant at Mumuni’s residence. During the execution, Mumuni repeatedly stabbed an FBI agent in the torso with a large kitchen knife, fortunately only reaching the agent’s body armor. Both Saleh and Mumuni will be sentenced on May 16th.

Finally, on February 10th, in federal district court in the Eastern District of Virginia, Mohamed Bailor Jalloh was sentenced to 11 years in prison and five years supervised release for attempting to provide material support to ISIL, according to the Justice Department’s press release. As I wrote about in July, the FBI arrested Jalloh, a 27-year-old U.S. citizen after he began plotting a Fort Hood style attack in the United States. This case was particularly interesting because Jalloh was in contact with ISIL fighters who actually, unbeknownst to them, put him in touch with an FBI source in order to further his attack plotting in the United States. Jalloh pleaded guilty in October and according to the statement of facts, Jalloh was planning an attack for Ramadan—a plan he called, “100 percent the right thing."