Two Iraqi-born refugees arrested on terrorism charges allegedly used social media to discuss their plans for returning to Syria to fight in the civil war.
Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab, 23, was arrested on Thursday in Sacramento, California on charges he was plotting to travel to Syria to join the al-Nusra Front terrorist organization.
Omar Faraj Saeed al Hardan, 24, was arrested in Houston, Texas on Thursday as well on three charges of trying to provide material support to the Islamic state.
Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan (left) is escorted from the Bob Casey Federal Courthouse on Friday in Houston. Al Hardan was indicted charges related to accusations he tried to provide material support to ISIS
It has been revealed Al Hardan was communicating on social media with a Sacramento man, Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab, about plans to travel to Syria and fight in the civil war
Al-Jayab, 23, (pictured) was arrested on Thursday in Sacramento, California on charges he was plotting to travel to Syria to join the al-Nusra Front terrorist organization
The two men’s social media communications provided the link that led to their terrorism-related charges, it has been revealed.
Al-Jayab promised in 2013 he would train Al Hardan in how to use weapons and sneak into Syria to join the fight, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed in federal court in Sacramento.
‘O God, grant us martyrdom for your sake while engaged in fighting and not retreating; a martyrdom that would make you satisfied with us,’ Al-Jayab wrote to Al Hardan, according to court documents.
Al-Jayab said he had already fought in Syria, starting when he turned 16, according to messages between the two men quoted in court documents.
He promised to provide weapons training to Al Hardan and advised him on how he would be assigned to the battlefield once he arrived in Syria.
Authorities say there was no indication either man, who are both Palestinians born in Iraq, was planning attacks in the United States.
Al-Jayab (pictured in this courtroom sketch) is currently being held without bond in Sacramento
Authorities say there is no indication that Al-Jayab was planning any sort of domestic attack on the US
Court documents rely heavily on Al-Jayab’s social media communication, much of which is in Arabic, travel records and Internet IP addresses. Prosecutors did not provide additional information.
In several messages, Al-Jayab criticized Islamic State for killing Muslims, although he later described fighting alongside the group.
‘If it weren’t for the State’s bloodletting, I would have been the first one to join it,’ he said, according to the FBI.
Social media and other accounts say that as soon as he arrived in the US, Al-Jayab began saying he wanted to return to Syria to ‘work,’ which the FBI says is believed to be a reference ‘to assisting in and supporting violent jihad.’
It says it appears he wanted to assist the ‘Front,’ which the FBI says was ‘likely a reference to al Nusrah Front,’ considered a terrorist organization affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq.
A few days later, he described, during earlier fighting, emptying seven ammunition magazines from his assault rifle during a battle and executing three Syrian government soldiers.
California boy: Al-Jayab (pictured) was born in Iraq to Palestinian parents, but emigrated to live in the U.S.
It’s not clear how Al-Jayab and Al Hardan met online, although the FBI affidavit describes at least one apparently mutual acquaintance.
Authorities say Al-Jayab, who emigrated to the US in 2012, fought twice in Syria, including with Ansar al-Islam, which merged with the Islamic State after he had returned to the US.
He told authorities he had traveled to Turkey to visit his grandmother, which prosecutors say was a lie that could send him to prison.
Al-Jayab returned to the United States in January 2014 and lived in Sacramento. He has been a computer science major at a Sacramento community college since last fall.
He faces up to eight years in prison on charges of traveling to Syria to fight in late 2013 and early 2014 and lying to US authorities about his travels.
Al-Jayab’s attorney on Friday criticized U.S. politicians who he said ‘have grossly mischaracterized the nature and scope of this case’ to tie it to the debate over whether the US is doing enough to screen refugees.
‘There is no threat that this man poses or no indication that he’s engaged in any activity since his return two years ago,’ defense attorney Ben Galloway said outside the courtroom.
Poses: Al-Jayab takes up a brooding post next to a Toyota car in this picture posted to his Facebook
Armed: The complaint in federal court in Sacramento said Al-Jayab (pictured) came to the United States from Syria as a refugee in October 2012
The only activities that were interrupted were his studies and his work.’
Meanwhile the US refugee program came under fresh criticism after the two men’s arrests this week.
Republican lawmakers already concerned about the federal government’s ability to properly vet Syrian refugees said the cases highlight weaknesses in the program that put Americans’ safety at risk.
‘How many ticking time bombs are we going to bring in in this refugee program without a proper vetting system in place?’ said Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul at a news conference Friday.
He and other GOP lawmakers urged the Senate to pass legislation to block refugees from Iraq and Syria until screening is improved. The House passed a bill in November.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday the screening of refugees is rigorous and thorough.
He repeated the administration’s opposition to proposals that would impose a religious test or bar individuals from the U.S. based on their ethnicity.
‘That doesn’t represent who we are as a country and, most importantly, it’s not going to keep us safe,’ Earnest said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Delaney ordered Al-Jayab held without bail on Friday.
Al Hardan faces up to 25 years in prison and is charged with attempting to provide material support for terrorists. He is being held without bond.
He told the judge he lives in a Houston-area apartment, is married and has a child.
Travels: While living in Arizona and Wisconsin, Al-Jayab (pictured) communicated on social media about his intent to return to Syria to fight for terrorist organizations and discussed his previous experience fighting against the regime in Syria.
Saeed Faraj Saeed Al Hardan said his brother told him Friday in a telephone call from the Federal Detention Center in Houston that he is innocent of the charges he faces.
Saeed said their family had always felt that ‘ISIS is no good’ and ‘ISIS is not Muslim’ and that his brother was looking forward to becoming a US citizen.
He said he never heard Al Hardan express support for the group.
Al-Jayab’s brother, Samer Mohammed Al Jayab, is being sent back to Wisconsin to face unrelated allegations that he conspired to transport stolen cell phones and computers across state lines.
He was arrested in California while visiting Al-Jayab and was released on $25,000 bond Friday.
Two other relatives, Younis Mohammed Al Jayab and Ahmad Waleed Mahmood, appeared in federal court in Wisconsin on Friday.
They also were ordered released without cash bond.
Prosecutors in Wisconsin say the three bought iPhones, a laptop and a TV that they believed to be stolen from Chicago and transported to Milwaukee.