New York terror arrests underscore difficult threat

WASHINGTON — Three New York men were arrested and charged Wednesday in the latest, unsettling example of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) radicalization prowess.

The arrests came as U.S. and European law enforcement officials finalized plans in Washington to disrupt the underground transit networks many suspected terrorist use.

New York FBI Assistant Director Diego Rodriguez said in a statement that some of the suspects arrested were planning to fly to Turkey “in a vain attempt to evade detection “on their way to Syria.

Justice Department documents indicate Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, 24, Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19, and Abror Habibov, 30, all of Brooklyn were arrested and charged with providing material support to ISIL, but were intent on doing much more than that, officials say.

If the police got in the way, they had a chilling back-up plan.

“The defendants planned to commit acts of terror here, in America, if they could not travel, to include killing FBI agents,” Rodriguez said .

Saidakhmetov was arrested at Kennedy Airport in Queens, New York, around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. According to FBI recordings, he said if detected at the airport, he would seek to “kill a police officer and use the officer’s gun to shoot other law enforcement officers that arrived on the scene”.

The statements and actions of the trio not only reflected their criminal immaturity, but they exposed the predatory pressure exacted by ISIL on potential recruits. The group’s intense radicalization tactics were captured in communications intercepted by authorities.

A figure, known as “Bagdodi”, communicated with Juraboev saying, “Even the Caliph (Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi) himself is doing Jihad. How come you are not coming here? Or is it not Jihad for you? Or the oppression of Muslims by infidels is not enough for you? Or you want to wait till they enter your house?”

Juraboev responded, “Can you provide me Fatwa to my circumstances? First, I am in the land of infidels. If right now I decide to go to the airport and go anywhere, except for Uzbekistan, they may arrest me. It’s because of what I told them about Obama.”

Juraboev wrote on an Uzbek social media site on Aug. 8, 2014, “Greetings! We too wanted to pledge our allegiance and commit ourselves while not present there. I am in USA now but we don’t have any arms. But is it possible to commit ourselves as dedicated martyrs anyway while here? What I’m saying is, to shoot Obama and then get shot ourselves, will it do? That will strike fear in the hearts of infidels.”

According to Justice Department charging documents, federal agents visited Juraboev on Aug. 15, 2014 to ask about the message. He allegedly admitted he wrote it, saying he would harm President Obama if he had the opportunity to.

After the FBI visited Juraboev several times, the group still pressed ahead with their plan, signaling to authorities that Juraboev, and Saidakhmetov would attempt to travel to Syria and Habibov would help finance their travel.

According to the Justice Department complaint, Juraboev purchased a roundtrip ticket to travel from JFK to Istanbul, Turkey, departing on March 29 –returning on May 28. And even though federal authorities maintained very tight surveillance on the suspects to prevent them from leaving the U.S., the depth of their greater concern — their return — was mirrored in Rodriguez’s statement.

“We rely on help from the community, the public and religious leaders to be mindful of those who could be radicalized. We cannot do this alone,” he said.

While the arrests were underway, closed door meetings between U.S. and European law enforcement officials were wrapping up to address the ease with which foreign fighters move back and forth between their homes and the battlefield.

Europol Deputy Director Wil van Gemert and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan signed a key agreement designed to capture foreign fighters returning to Europe or the U.S. from Syria or Iraq.

The agreement, designed to prevent attacks by returning fighters, allows Europol to share information from European Union member states with the U.S. to fill intelligence gaps on terror suspects’ and their movements.

“Getting CBP on board means that we will exchange relevant information with the U.S. and it also allows the U.S. to share information that’s relevant to European law enforcement,” van Gemert told WTOP in an exclusive interview.

Van Gemert said information on identities, travel routes, financing and plans by fighters returning from conflict zones are the main elements of the agreement.

Time is an important factor. National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Nicholas Rasmussen told the Senate Intelligence committee Feb. 12, 2015 their latest assessment on ISIL’s strength places the group’s manpower between 20,000 and 31,500 members.

Many of them reportedly have traveled back and forth from their home countries to Iraq and Syria, using black market travel documents.

At the same time ISIL is aggressively recruiting westerners to launch attacks as international pressure on the organization intensifies in Iraq and Syria.

J.J. Green

JJ Green is WTOP's National Security Correspondent. He reports daily on security, intelligence, foreign policy, terrorism and cyber developments, and provides regular on-air and online analysis. He is also the host of two podcasts: Target USA and Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.

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