A legal U.S. resident from Yemen was arrested Monday at his Brooklyn home as federal authorities accused him of attempting to join Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and taking part in a plot targeting Times Square.
Mohamed Rafik Naji, 37, was held without bail and charged in federal court in Brooklyn for trying to hand material support and resources to the terror group. Naji was recorded speaking with a confidential informant about ISIS’ plans to carry out a terrorist attack similar to the one that killed more than 80 people in Nice, France, where a man barreled his truck through a town square in July.
The complaint said Naji wanted to conduct the terrorist act in Times Square by using a garbage truck to crush pedestrians. The confidential source is paid to provide information to law enforcement, and the identity will not be released for obvious reasons.
“They want an operation in Times Square,” Naji told the informant, according to the complaint partially reported by The Wall Street Journal. “Reconnaissance group already put out a scene, the Islamic State already put up scenes of Times-Square, you understand. I said that was an indication of whoever is smart to know.”
U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said in a statement that federal authorities would continue to “identify and prosecute” people like Naji who make efforts to “empower our nation’s enemies and endanger our citizens,” as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
The complaint said Naji has repeatedly and openly expressed support for the terror organization on social media since 2014 when he communicated privately with the confidential source.
Naji unsuccessfully tried to join ISIS during a trip to Yemen last year. He traveled to Turkey and his homeland between March and September and emailed his girlfriend that it was no easy task to enter ISIS territory and join the group. He expressed his admiration for the group several times on Facebook during his travels to Yemen. Authorities said he returned to the U.S. in September and did not stop expressing support for ISIS.
Court documents revealed that when he was still in Yemen on April 2015, Naji sent a selfie to his girlfriend in which he appears wearing black clothing and a large knife handle can be seen in a black tactical vest, according to CBS News. Weeks later, the documents state, Naji sent video files with gunfire resonating in the background. Prosecutors reported that Naji’s girlfriend repeatedly sent him money while he was in Yemen, CBS News informed.
Arguments from Naji’s lawyer
Susan Kellman said her client was “in shock,” The Wall Street Journal reported. She suggested that Naji’s comments about plans to carry out a terrorist attack similar to Nice’s incident could have been “taken out of context” and “fed to him by the confidential source”.
Kellman added that Naji had “legitimate” motivations to travel to Yemen because his wife and three children are living there. She noted that she was unaware of potential relatives he might have in New York, which leads to the question of whether his girlfriend will be prosecuted for being directly involved with a man attempting to join ISIS and carry out a terror attack on U.S. soil.
Source: Wall Street Journal