International Terrorism Prosecutions: New District Case

By Nora Ellingsen
Thursday, October 6, 2016, 12:59 PM

We haven’t seen a counterterrorism arrest out of the Washington, DC area in almost two months—not since a WMTA police officer was arrested in early August. But the Justice Department broke the dry spell earlier this week when they announced the arrest of 24-year-old Nelash Mohamed Das. Although a citizen of Bangladesh, Das is a Legal Permanent Resident who came to the U.S. as a toddler and resided in Hyattsville, Maryland, just over the District line, prior to his arrest.

The complaint indicates Das came onto the FBI’s radar just over a year ago due to his explosive tweets in support of ISIL. In September 2015, Das tweeted that he envies ISIL members who are killing disbelievers, the prosecution alleges. One month later, he tweeted out the name and hometown of an individual who wanted to become a member of the U.S. military, hoping to incite violence against the individual who “aspires to kill Muslims.”

Das eventually graduated to attack planning and elected to become an active shooter, according to the government. Das began travelling to the firing range, more frequently than even the previous subjects out of Florida. The complaint counts seven visits between June and September. After meeting an FBI source for the first time in May 2016, Das told the source that he wanted to acquire an AK-47 and knew someone who could get him a firearm. Unlike many others who have been arrested while attempting to join ISIL overseas (from Mississippi, Minnesota, Indiana, Florida and California), Das mentioned that he would be willing to travel abroad to join ISIL but focused his energy on conducting an attack in the United States.

As he tried to find the perfect target, Das turned to the list of U.S. military members and government employees that ISIL published online last year. This is the same “kill list” I discussed briefly last week when Ardit Ferizi was sentenced on material support charges for providing the list to ISIL member Junaid Hussain for publication. Das was unable to track down a copy of the list and asked the source for help. In turn, the source provided Das with the identifying information of a member of the U.S. military. Das believed this information came from the source’s ISIL contact in Iraq and that ISIL would pay him $80,000 for conducting the attack—marking the first time we’ve seen a subject request a large monetary payment from ISIL in return for conducting an attack at home.

The FBI’s arrest of Das was also unlike many of their prior arrests of subjects that usually occur as the subjects are boarding an airplane to leave the country. In this case, Das and the source travelled to the residence of the target with FBI-provided, inert firearms in the trunk. When they arrived at the residence, Das got out of the car and went to the trunk to grab the weapons. When FBI agents approached, Das tried to run but was arrested by the agents.

If convicted, Das faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

A note on Ahmad Rahami, the suspect in the New York and New Jersey bombings: he is still recovering from gunshot wounds in a hospital in New Jersey. On September 21st, Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein denied a request from the Federal Defenders of New York to be appointed counsel for Rahami and scheduled an initial appearance on the grounds that the defendant is not in federal custody. Five days later, the ACLU of New Jersey entered a notice of appearance notifying the court that the organization will represent Rahami, at the request of family members, until he is appointed a federal public defender.

And a final update: for those of you who remember the Anaheim trial, Nader Elhuzayel, 25, of Anaheim, California, was sentenced in the Central District of California to 30 years in prison with a lifetime of supervised release for conspiring and attempting to provide material support to the ISIL, a designated foreign terrorist organization, and other federal offenses, according to the Justice Department’s press release.

His co-conspirator, Muhanad Badawi is scheduled to be sentenced on October 17th. He faces a statutory maximum sentence of 35 years in federal prison.