Federal authorities have charged an upstate New York man with trying to persuade two others in the United States to join the Islamic State, or ISIS, the terrorist group wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria that U.S. officials have been outspoken about for weeks.
Mufid Elfgeeh, 30, of Rochester, also plotted to kill U.S. soldiers who had returned from Iraq, federal prosecutors announced today.
Last year, two FBI informants began building relationships with Elfgeeh, who -- not realizing they were working with the FBI -- encouraged them to go overseas and join terrorists in Syria, prosecutors allege in court documents. For months, Elfgeeh had been posting Tweets and other messages online praising ISIS and, among other things, urging others to donate a third of their salaries to terrorists in Syria, according to charging documents.
ISIS "will one day rule the world with the will of Allah," Elfgeeh allegedly said in one message.
Since then, Elfgeeh helped the FBI informants take steps to get to Syria, including by partially paying for them to obtain passports, and he tried to set up contacts for them in Syria, according to federal prosecutors. In addition, Elfgeeh told at least one of the informants that when they first got to Syria, they would be sent to a house where they would be educated for two to three months, and during that time ISIS would assess whether they were actually spies, prosecutors allege.
Elfgeeh, a naturalized U.S. citizen who owned a food store in Rochester, was arrested in May, and the FBI has continued its investigation since then, officials said.
"We will remain aggressive in identifying and disrupting those who seek to provide support to [ISIS] and other terrorist groups that are bent on inflicting harm upon Americans," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. "We are focused on breaking up these activities on the front end, before supporters of [ISIS] can make good on plans to travel to the region or recruit sympathizers to this cause.
In December, Elfgeeh allegedly told one of the informants that he was "thinking about doing something here" in the United States.
"I'm thinking about just go buy a big automatic gun from off the street or something and a lot of bullets and just put on a vest or whatever and just go around and start shooting," he allegedly told the informant, adding that he wanted to target U.S. soldiers back from Iraq.
He allegedly later told the informant: "[Y]ou want to terrorize them. ... You want to stop the killing machine that is happening there, you understand, and the only way is to deter them by any means."
Elfgeeh then gave one of the informants hundreds of dollars for a gun, a silencer and ammunition, according to federal prosecutors.
Elfgeeh has been indicted on seven charges, including attempting to provide material supports to terrorists and attempted murder. If convicted on certain charges, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Homeland Security officials have warned that ISIS sympathizers could try to strike inside the United States.
While commemorating the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks last week, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said ISIS "is now vying to be the preeminent terrorist organization on the world's stage."
"Its public messaging and social media is as slick and as effective as any I've ever seen from a terrorist organization," he said.