Bail denied for New York man charged with trying to support Islamic State group

1 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Do this man’s tweets, eBay purchases, and WhatsApp messages make him a terrorist?.

BUFFALO, N.Y. BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Arafat Nagi had made an oath to the Islamic State group, outfitted himself to fight and had a one-way ticket to the Middle East at the time of his arrest, federal authorities said Friday. Judge Scott said that he “has to consider the safety of the community.” Nagi was charged with attempting to support a terrorist organization after his Wednesday arrest by members of the FBI. Nagi was arrested Wednesday, two weeks before he was scheduled to make his third trip to Turkey in three years, investigators said, with plans to cross the border into Syria in a bid to join the fighters.

The Lackawanna man had posted multiple photos of beheadings and severed heads on social media before a 2014 trip, a criminal complaint said, and he pledged allegiance to leaders of the group on Twitter. But civil rights advocates question whether the digital breadcrumbs he left behind, while suspicious, actually amount to a crime—or if he’s being prosecuted for an unpopular opinion.

He’d also bought an array of combat gear online, including body armor, military clothing, a Shahada flag, Islamic headband, stealth face mask, machete, burn kit and night vision goggles, investigators said. Defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz argued that neither Nagi’s travels nor purchases were illegal and that any Twitter postings, aside from being perhaps “mere rhetoric,” were constitutionally protected. He added that Nagi planned to go to Turkey soon and then Syria, where ISIL is based. “The number one threat for the FBI is the threat of ISIL,” said Steve Lanser, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of Buffalo’s FBI office. “ISIL has recruited about 200 Americans to fight.

In the last year, the federal government has brought more than two dozen cases against U.S. citizens accused of supporting ISIS, according to The New York Times, and social media has played a critical role in many of them. Arafat Nagi is no different than some of the other 200 we look at.” According to Lynch, Nagi researched ISIL controlled borders between the two countries the last time he traveled to Turkey. The investigation started when a “person previously convicted of terrorism offenses who is cooperating with the government” told agents in August that Nagi had been talking about jihad with some of his neighbors.

Wearing a blue prison jumper and shackles, Nagi said nothing during Friday’s hearing and showed no visible reaction as Lynch described how investigators seized a sword, several combat knives and 10 cellphones and electronic tablets from his home. During his 2014 stay in Turkey, he texted his sister, “I’m talking with them for the first time…They gave me directions how to get to them.” His iPad had saved screenshots of searches for hotels near the Turkey-Syria border and images of border crossing maps. Nagi told Customs Border Patrol agents after returning to the U.S. in September 2014 that he hadn’t left Istanbul while in Turkey and didn’t support ISIS. But does this all add up to a smoking gun? “The criminal complaint against him doesn’t allege any inherently illegal activity on his behalf, and we’re looking forward to seeing what more the government has,” Jeremy Schwartz, Nagi’s lawyer, told Fusion. “I think there’s going to be some First Amendment implications.” Schwartz said Nagi’s travel to Turkey was “all above-board.” Law enforcement officials claim Nagi’s prosecution is about protecting Americans. “This defendant is no longer capable of achieving his goal of joining the most despicable group of our time,” U.S.

Attorney’s office was making “very strong inferences based on Twitter and second information.” He stated that any tweets made by Nagi may have been rhetoric that he never planned to act out on, and were considered freedom of speech. “A lot of evidence against him is Twitter and messages,” Schwartz said. “That goes against the first amendment, the most important part of our Constitution.” Schwartz said the FBI was monitoring his client for so long, that if Nagi was such a danger he would have been removed from the streets sooner. He also argued that Nagi’s assault rifle, found in his brother’s home, was registered in New York State. “What kind of terrorist registers an assault rifle post SAFE Act,” asked Schwartz.

Perhaps the closest parallel to Nagi’s case is the 2011 prosecution of a Massachusetts man who posted videos supporting jihadi causes and traveled to Yemen, allegedly in an unsuccessful attempt to train with Al Qaeda. In other more recent investigations of alleged ISIS supporters, the FBI has developed a series of elaborate plots using undercover agents to test how susceptible suspects are to recruitment by violent extremists and then arrest them for gong through with the fake plans. Several recent arrestees had no actual contact with real terrorists and no means of planning a real attack; and least one has been described as mentally ill. It’s a difficult line: Unlike in many other crimes, law enforcement agents are expected to arrest suspects in terrorism cases before they commit an attack, not after.

No one wants to see headlines after bombs go off about how officials had been tracking the perpetrator and didn’t arrest them, as was the case with the Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. If “material support” essentially means voicing support for a group, that dynamic has a potentially chilling effect on freedom of expression. “Are they going to prosecute everybody who… says really offensive, uncomfortable things on social media?

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