An upstate New York man has been indicted for allegedly trying to recruit fighters for the Islamic State, paying for their travel and even buying guns, according to federal prosecutors.
Mufid Elfgeeh, 30, of Rochester, was indicted by a federal grand jury on three counts of attempting to provide material support and resources to the group widely known as ISIS that has been designated by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization, federal prosecutors said late Tuesday. Elfgeeh, who was born in Yemen and is a naturalized U.S. citizen, is one of the first people accused by the U.S. of recruiting on behalf of ISIS.
According to court documents seen by the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Elfgeeh tried to raise money to enable a Yemeni man to join ISIS. At one point, Elfgeeh allegedly sent the man $600 to travel from Yemen to Syria. An FBI affidavit alleges that this past April, Elfgeeh traveled to Buffalo with an FBI informant to get a passport for the latter man. Elfgeeh suggested that ISIS would use the informant to "operate a cannon, act as a sniper and/or build bombs," the document claims.
Elfgeeh was arrested this past May in the parking lot of a local Walmart after taking delivery of two handguns equipped with silencers and ammunition. Elfgeeh, who had been under surveillance for more than a year after tweets about jihad attracted law enforcement attention, had allegedly given the informant $1,050 in cash to purchase the handguns, which had been rendered inoperable. Federal authorities said he bought the weapons as part of a plan to kill members of the U.S. armed forces returning from war, as well as Shiites in the Rochester area.
"As this case shows, our agents and prosecutors are using all the investigative tools at our disposal to break up these plots before individuals can put their plans into action," said Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement. "We are focused on breaking up these activities on the front end, before supporters of ISIL [another name for ISIS and IS] can make good on plans to travel to the region or recruit sympathizers to this cause."
Thousands of western jihadists, mostly from Europe, have flocked to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State, particularly since it announced it has established a caliphate of Sharia law. U.S. officials have said "dozens" of Americans are believed to have went overseas, and two men with ties to the Minneapolis area, Douglas McAuthur McCain and Abdirahmaan Muhumed, have been killed in battle in Syria.
Prosecutors said two of the three individuals Elfgeeh had contact with were cooperating with the FBI.
"Disrupting and holding accountable those who seek to provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations is and shall remain a critical national security priority," said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin.
The investigation included linking Elfgeeh's home computer to tweets from alias Twitter accounts expressing support for Al Qaeda, violent holy war and Sunni insurgent groups in Syria, according to court papers.
One message allegedly from Elfgeeh read, "al-Qaida [sic] said it loud and clear; we are fighting the American invasion and their hegemony over the earth and the people."
Elfgeeh is also charged with one count of attempting to kill "officers and employees of the United States," two counts or possession of an unregistered firearm silencer, and a count of possession of firearms and silencers in furtherance of a violent crime. He is scheduled to appear in court for arraignment Thursday.
Elfgeeh's lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender Mark Hosken, told the Democrat & Chronicle that he would enter a not guilty plea in response to all the charges.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.