Ali Saleh, 25, of Queens, New York, pleaded guilty today to two counts of attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist organization.
“Saleh was undeterred in his many attempts to travel to join ISIS, and although he failed in these efforts, he turned his attention to assisting others online to join ISIS’s murderous mission in Syria,” said Assistant Attorney General John Demers. “I am grateful to our partners in federal law enforcement and the prosecutors who were able to apprehend and charge Saleh before he could do more damage or harm innocent Americans.”
According to court filings, Saleh was arrested after repeatedly attempting to travel to the Middle East to become a foreign fighter for ISIS. In 2013 and thereafter, Saleh became interested in the conflict in Syria, swore an oath of allegiance to ISIS and decided to travel to the Middle East in support of ISIS. On Aug. 25, 2014, Saleh stated online, “I’m ready to die for the Caliphate, prison is nothing.” On Aug. 28, 2014, Saleh stated online, “Lets be clear the Muslims in the khilafah [caliphate] need help, the one who is capable to go over and help the Muslims must go and help.” That same day, Saleh made an airline reservation to travel from New York to Turkey, a country bordering Syria. The defendant was ultimately prevented from traveling because his parents took away his passport.
Saleh then redirected his efforts to facilitating others’ support of ISIS. In October 2014, the defendant communicated with an ISIS supporter in Mali through an online messaging platform and sent a wire transfer in the amount of $500 to fund that person’s travel to Syria. Around the same time period, the defendant communicated with several other individuals in an effort to facilitate their support of ISIS, including known ISIS supporters in the United Kingdom and Australia.
In July 2015, the defendant purchased fireworks containing explosive powder, hid them in a concealed compartment in the trunk of his car, and drove from Indiana towards New York City. The fireworks contained approximately 1,196 grams of low explosive powder, consisting of both pyrotechnic material and black powder. Law enforcement agents located a cellphone belonging to Saleh during the time frame when he acquired the explosive powder and discovered on the phone an electronic pamphlet titled, “Muslim Gangs: The Future of Muslims in the West (Ebook 1: How to Survive in the West).” The pamphlet provided detailed instructions on how to create a bomb using explosive powder from fireworks. The pamphlet provided an example of a soda can grenade, and the instructions specifically stated that the soda can should be filled with “[e]xplosive powder (i.e. from Fireworks).” Saleh posted online the pamphlet’s image of a soda can hand grenade with instructions on how to build an improvised explosive device. Saleh’s car broke down on the way to New York City and was abandoned by the defendant.
Subsequently, on July 24, 2015, the defendant made a reservation to travel from New York to Egypt, a country bordering Libya, and went to JFK International Airport. The defendant was ultimately denied boarding. The defendant subsequently visited three additional international airports in Newark, Philadelphia and Indianapolis, but continued to encounter travel restrictions. The defendant attempted to circumvent the apparent restrictions on his air travel by planning to take a train from Cleveland to Canada, where he intended to fly out to the Middle East. After law enforcement intervention, however, the defendant did not board the train and instead returned to New York.
After his encounters with law enforcement, Saleh changed his online social media moniker and expressed his support for ISIS under new usernames. On Aug. 24, 2015, the defendant stated online, “I am a terrorist.” On Sept. 1, 2015, the defendant stated online, “If they aren’t implementing shariah [Islamic law] grab ur gun and implement shariah and see how fast the world turns against u.” That same day, the defendant also stated online, “Akhi [brother] if implementing sharia [Islamic law] is easy do it in ur neighborhood and defend it from kuffar [the infidels] and give bayah [an oath of allegiance] to IS.”
When sentenced, Saleh faces up to 35 years in prison.