Miami FBI ‘stings’ two alleged al-Qaida supporters in Internet chat room

 

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

A Miami-based FBI employee posed as a brother and sister who supported al-Qaida as a way to communicate in an Internet chat room with two men overseas. Now, the men are accused of plotting to finance the terrorist group’s battles in Syria and Somalia.

The “online covert employee” assumed the role of the brother, saying he was an al-Qaida fighter. Then he switched to playing the sister, saying she could help collect money for the terrorist group.

In 2012, the FBI employee first engaged Gufran Ahmed Kauser Mohammed in Saudi Arabia and later Mohamed Hussein Said in Kenya. The men have been charged with conspiring to provide a combined total of about $25,000 to three U.S.-designated terrorist organizations operating under al-Qaida.

Mohammed, 30, a naturalized U.S. citizen who had once lived in California, and Said, 25, who resided in Mombasa, were arrested earlier this month in Saudi Arabia and brought to Miami by FBI agents. Both pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Miami federal court before Magistrate Judge John O’Sullivan, who denied bonds for them after prosecutor Ricardo Del Toro argued they are a flight risk and danger to the community.

O’Sullivan noted the charges of conspiring to provide and attempting to provide material support for the foreign terrorist organizations are “very serious.” He also pointed out that the defendants face up to 15 years on each of the 15 counts in the indictment, which was returned by a grand jury in May and unsealed last week.

Mohammed’s defense attorney, assistant federal public defender Vincent Farina, sought a $500,000 bond. Said’s lawyer, Silvia Pinera-Vazquez, acknowledged the defendant has “no ties” to the community but also questioned the prosecution’s basis for identifying her client as the co-conspirator.

According to the indictment, Mohammed and Said met in Saudi Arabia in May 2011 and agreed to provide financial and other resources to an al-Qaida affiliate, al-Shabaab, which is seeking to overthrow the U.S.-backed transitional government in Somalia.

Through September of that year, Mohammed allegedly wired Said more than $11,000 via Western Union to back al-Shabaab, the indictment said.

In April 2012, the FBI undercover employee established online contact with Mohammed, according to the indictment. Mohammed arranged to send a series of Western Union wire transfers totaling more than $9,000 through November to the FBI employee. The funds were intended for another al-Qaida affiliate, al-Nusrah Front, which is fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Last December, Mohammed also met in person with a purported associate of the FBI undercover employee and gave him 14,400 Saudi Arabian riyals, worth about $3,800, which was also meant to support al-Nusrah Frant, the indictment said.

The indictment discloses discussions between Mohammed and the undercover employee in which they talked about terrorist operations overseas, as well as fundraising, recruits and weapons.

The undercover employee told Mohammed in the fall of 2012 that a terrorist attack was being planned to retaliate for the U.S. drone attack on al-Qaida radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in Yemen in 2011. Mohammed allegedly sent the undercover employee $1,493 intended for that purported retaliatory plot, according to the indictment.

Mohammed said he wanted “to kill the dogs who killed al-Awlaki,” the prosecutor, Del Toro, said in court.

The undercover employee also spoke with Said, after Mohammed made introductions over the Internet. In February 2013, Said contacted the FBI employee and stated “he had a recruit who would be willing to conduct a martyrdom operation within the United States like one of ‘the 19.’ ’’

Del Toro told the judge Said was referring to the 19 hijackers involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The case, assigned to U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro, was investigated by the FBI’s South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force. Evidence cited in court Tuesday suggested that the government of Saudi Arabia also played a key role in the probe.

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