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October 18, 2013 0

Long Island Arrest Highlights Continuing Lure Of Terror Groups Abroad

marcos-alonso-zea

Mar­cos Alonso Zea arrested for attempt­ing to join Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Peninsula.

A Long Island man was arrested Fri­day for attempt­ing to join Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula (AQAP). The arrest came exactly one week after an Orange County man was arrested for attempt­ing to travel abroad to join Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Both arrests high­light the con­tin­ued trend of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens join­ing ter­ror­ist groups abroad and the con­tin­ued allure of Al Qaeda and its affil­i­ates. At least three Amer­i­can cit­i­zens or per­ma­nent res­i­dents have attempted to join AQAP in 2013 alone. And at least nine oth­ers have attempted to join for­eign ter­ror­ist groups this year.

Mar­cos Alonso Zea, also known as Ali Zea, is charged with con­spir­acy to com­mit mur­der in a for­eign coun­try, attempt­ing to pro­vide mate­r­ial sup­port to ter­ror­ists, attempt­ing to pro­vide mate­r­ial sup­port to AQAP, and obstruc­tion and attempted obstruc­tion of justice.

Zea, a 25-year-old Mus­lim con­vert from Brent­wood, Long Island, allegedly flew from New York to Lon­don with plans to con­tinue from there to the Ara­bian Penin­sula on Jan­u­ary 4, 2012. He was detained by cus­toms offi­cials and returned to the United States.

His own plans stymied, Zea allegedly encour­aged a co-conspirator from his mosque, 18-year-old high school senior Justin Kaliebe, to make the trip. Zea dis­cussed plans to fight abroad and pro­vided him with money to fund the trip, accord­ing to the indict­ment. Kaliebe was arrested at JFK Inter­na­tional Air­port on Jan­u­ary 21, 2013, and is sched­uled to be sen­tenced Decem­ber 6, 2013.

Zea’s com­puter report­edly con­tained a num­ber of mate­ri­als designed to encour­age rad­i­cal­iza­tion, includ­ing copies of Inspire Mag­a­zine, AQAP’s English-language peri­od­i­cal, and a video from Al Qaeda in Iraq depict­ing an attack on a mil­i­tary vehicle.

Since 2007, over 50 Amer­i­can cit­i­zens and per­ma­nent res­i­dents have been arrested or charged in con­nec­tion with attempts to join ter­ror­ist groups abroad, includ­ing Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula.

In addi­tion to Zea, eight oth­ers have attempted to join for­eign ter­ror­ist groups this year. They are:

  • Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen of Cal­i­for­nia, arrested on Octo­ber 11, 2013 for attempt­ing to join Al Qaeda.
  • Amir Farouq Ibrahim, of Penn­syl­va­nia, linked with ISIS and assumed dead in Syria in July 2013.
  • Justin Kaliebe of New York, arrested June 25, 2013 for attempt­ing to join AQAP.
  • Nicole Mans­field of Michi­gan, killed in Syria in May, 2013, report­edly fight­ing with Jab­hat al Nus­rah.
  • Abdella Ahmad Tounisi of Illinios, arrested April 19, 2013 for attempt­ing to join Jab­hat al Nusrah.
  • Eric Har­roun of Ari­zona, arrested March 27, 2013, for trav­el­ing to Syria to fight with Al Qaeda linked rebels. He pleaded guilty to non-terror-related charges in Sep­tem­ber, 2013, and was sen­tenced to time served. That Har­roun fought in Syria is uncon­tested; how­ever, reports dif­fer as to whether he fought with Al Qaeda affil­i­ates.
  • Matthew Aaron Llaneza of Cal­i­for­nia, arrested Feb­ru­ary 8, 2013, for attempted domes­tic ter­ror­ism and plans to travel to join the Tal­iban in Afghanistan.
  • Shel­ton Thomas Bell of Florida, arrested Jan­u­ary 29, 2013 for attempt­ing to join AQAP.

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July 22, 2013 0

Florida Teen, Shelton Thomas Bell, Latest American To Attempt To Join Al Qaeda

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Shel­ton Thomas bell

The lat­est Amer­i­can cit­i­zen to appar­ently respond to Al Qaeda’s call by attempt­ing to join the ter­ror­ist group is 19-year-old Florid­ian Shel­ton Thomas Bell.

Bell, who accord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors attempted to join Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula (AQAP) in Yemen, has been charged with con­spir­ing and attempt­ing to pro­vide mate­r­ial sup­port to terrorists.

Since 2007, at least 52 Amer­i­can cit­i­zens and per­ma­nent res­i­dents have been arrested or charged for suc­cess­fully trav­el­ing or attempt­ing to travel abroad to reach Al Qaeda affil­i­ate groups. Many joined or attempted to join Al Shabaab in Soma­lia, while oth­ers have received train­ing in Pak­istan. More recently, some Amer­i­cans have been attracted to Jab­hat al-Nusrah in Syria.

Bell, report­edly a Mus­lim con­vert, “devised a plan to travel to the Ara­bian Penin­sula to join Ansar al Sharia (AAS),” an alias for (AQAP), “and par­tic­i­pate in vio­lent armed con­flict that he termed ‘jihad,’” accord­ing to the fed­eral indictment.

Bell and a juve­nile trav­eled to Jor­dan Sep­tem­ber 2012 and made con­tact with some­one who could facil­i­tate their travel to Yemen and intro­duce them to ter­ror­ists, accord­ing to the indictment.

The indict­ment also alleges that between May 2012 and Sep­tem­ber 2012, Bell and oth­ers engaged in phys­i­cal, firearms, and other train­ing in prepa­ra­tion for what Bell described as “the actions of jihad,” includ­ing “a night-time mis­sion” in which they van­dal­ized reli­gious stat­ues at a Jack­sonville cemetery.

Bell allegedly also made video and audio record­ings for the pur­pose of solic­it­ing and recruit­ing oth­ers to par­tic­i­pate in vio­lent jihad.

Lead­ers of the Islamic Cen­ter of North­east Florida in Jack­sonville report­edly noti­fied law enforce­ment about Bell because they were con­cerned about con­ver­sa­tion he was hav­ing about weapons and jihad at their mosque.

AQAP has been described by the U.S. gov­ern­ment as “the most active and dan­ger­ous” branch of Al Qaeda. The growth of AQAP has led Amer­i­can offi­cials to indi­cate that Yemen could become Al Qaeda’s next oper­a­tional and train­ing hub for the group’s mil­i­tants from around the world.

A key com­po­nent of AQAP’s oper­a­tional strat­egy entails reach­ing out to English-speaking audi­ences with its mes­sages and pro­pa­ganda in order to recruit new mem­bers. This mate­r­ial encour­ages West­ern audi­ences to adopt its ide­ol­ogy and carry out attacks against West­ern inter­ests in the Ara­bian Penin­sula and abroad.

The dri­ving forces behind AQAP’s English-language pro­pa­ganda machine were Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric, and Samir Khan, an Amer­i­can blog­ger and pro­pa­gan­dist, both of whom were killed in a Sep­tem­ber 30, 2011 drone strike.

Bell, who worked as a com­puter repair ven­dor at a flea mar­ket in Jack­sonville, is in jail await­ing trial on unre­lated grand theft charges.

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June 14, 2013 0

Al Qaeda Propagandist Faces Extradition To New York

A British national of Viet­namese ori­gin is fac­ing extra­di­tion to the United States for his alleged role help­ing Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula (AQAP) cre­ate and dis­trib­ute the type of online pro­pa­ganda that has become a sta­ple of domes­tic ter­ror­istsinspire-al-qaeda-pham

The indict­ment, filed in New York fed­eral court in June 2012, alleges that Minh Quang Pham “pro­vided expert advice and assis­tance in pho­tog­ra­phy and graphic design of media” for AQAP. In addi­tion to help­ing AQAP craft its pro­pa­ganda, author­i­ties also allege that Pham helped dis­sem­i­nate the propaganda.

These graph­ics, cou­pled with West­ern ref­er­ences, prac­ti­cal infor­ma­tion and anti-Semitic nar­ra­tives have made AQAP’s Inspire mag­a­zine an effec­tive recruit­ment and rad­i­cal­iza­tion tool. 

Before trav­el­ing to Yemen in 2010 and bring­ing his pro­fes­sional exper­tise to AQAP, Pham report­edly estab­lished a busi­ness in Lon­don as a web and graph­ics designer. 

The indict­ment also alleges that Pham met with two unnamed Amer­i­cans, a likely ref­er­ence to Anwar al-Awlaki, AQAP’s American-born ide­o­logue who also served as its chief of exter­nal oper­a­tions, and Samir Khan, an Amer­i­can blog­ger who was believed to be the prin­ci­pal edi­tor of Inspire. Both Awlaki and Khan were killed in a drone strike in Sep­tem­ber 2011.

Pham is for­mally charged with pro­vid­ing mate­r­ial sup­port to AQAP, receiv­ing mil­i­tary train­ing from a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion, firearms charges and two other related crimes. He report­edly trav­eled from the UK to Yemen in 2010 where he allegedly received weapons train­ing, took an oath of alle­giance to AQAP, and pro­vided his expert media advice to the ter­ror­ist organization.

British author­i­ties arrested Pham last June, coin­cid­ing with the announce­ment of the Amer­i­can charges against him. He had pre­vi­ously been in immi­gra­tion cus­tody after ammu­ni­tion was allegedly found in his bag after he returned from the Mid­dle East.  His extra­di­tion hear­ing is sched­uled for August. 

If con­victed on all charges, he faces the pos­si­bil­ity of life in prison.

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