Law enforcement agencies have arrested nine Northern Virginia residents on charges of aiding the Islamic State since the terrorist group rose to power in Syria and Iraq in 2014 and launched social media propaganda to attract followers, a government message to police states.
The Northern Virginia Regional Intelligence Center issued profiles of the nine in a Dec. 21 report labeled “law enforcement sensitive.”
Such reports are designed to help state and federal agents recognize trends in the types of individuals who are influenced by the Islamic State’s message and how they communicate across terrorist networks.
A defense attorney in one of the cases accused police of anti-Muslim bias; his client later pleaded guilty.
Somalis living in Minnesota appear to receive the most press attention in the U.S. for wanting to help or join the Islamic State. The FBI arrested six residents of Somali origin in April after they made arrangements to leave Minnesota for Syria. Last December, a 20-year-old man of Somali origin was arrested on accusations of leading a group of ethnic Somalis attempting to fight for the Islamic State.
The Northern Virginia report shows that Muslims seeking to become mass killers live near the seat of American government.
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Of the nine Northern Virginians who were arrested, all but one were in their teens and early 20s. They included a police officer, a Starbucks barista, Army soldiers, bankers and a cabdriver. Four of the nine graduated from Northern Virginia high schools, one with honors. Two attended Northern Virginia Community College.
In other words, all of them appeared to have opportunities via public education to become successful Americans but instead were charged with what amounted to a devotion to violent jihad.
They are suspected of conducting terrorism planning through Twitter, Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp and other platforms and apps, as well as on prepaid phones.
“Local police are in a particularly difficult situation,” said Robert Maginnis, a retired Army officer and researcher on Islamism who lives in Northern Virginia. “They face a severe challenge by Islamists operating in the shadows of our open society. These mostly young male Muslims become radicalized either by Islamist imams at some of the thousands of mosques across America, at school, or over the ever-present internet sites that spew anti-West, anti-Christian hatred.”
These are the nine profiles, according to the intelligence report obtained by The Washington Times:
• Ali Shukir Amin. He pleaded guilty to providing support to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh) and was sentenced to 136 months in prison. An honors student at Osbourn Park High School, Amin wrote a pro-Islamic State blog, had a Twitter account with 7,000 tweets and instructed people on how to use bitcoin to hide money transfers and on how to travel to Syria.
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• Reza Niknejad. Also an Osbourn Park student who was attending Northern Virginia Community College, Niknejad, aided by Amin, traveled to Syria in 2015. He was charged in absentia.
• Heather Coffman. She pleaded guilty to making a false statement concerning involvement in international terrorism and was sentenced to 54 months in prison. She joined the Army but was discharged after four months, and later worked as a sales clerk. She operated multiple Facebook accounts to promote the Islamic State and shared terrorism contacts with possible recruits.
• Joseph Hassan Farrokh. He pleaded guilty this year to attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State and received 102 months in prison. He provided $600 to a friend to travel to Syria and attempted to be a foreign fighter.
• Mahmound Amin Mohamed Elhassan. He pleaded guilty in October to aiding Farrokh and lying about his involvement in international terrorism. He spoke openly of supporting the Islamic State and its violence. He had attended Northern Virginia Community College and worked for Starbucks.
• Mohamad Jamal Khweis. He was arrested in Turkey on charges of conspiring to help the Islamic State. His trial begins in April. He graduated from Edison High School and worked for two banks and Highgate Hotels. He traveled to Syria in 2015 to become a foreign fighter before having second thoughts and escaping.
• Mohammad Bilor Jalloh. He pleaded guilty in October to trying to help the Islamic State. He had served as a combat engineer in the Virginia National Guard and worked for consulting firms. He met with Islamic State members in Africa and tried to buy firearms to carry out a Fort Hood-style massacre.
• Haris Qatar. He also pleaded guilty to charges of helping the Islamic State. He attended Northern Virginia Community College and worked for Wells Fargo. He created 60 Twitter handles for Islamic State propaganda and stalked residences in Northern Virginia that were on the group’s “kill lists.” He was preparing to make a video encouraging people to carry out “lone wolf” attacks around Washington.
• Nicholas Young. The oldest of the nine at 36, he has been charged with helping the Islamic State but has not faced trial. He graduated from West Potomac High School and worked as a Metro police officer. He is accused of stockpiling weapons at his home. According to authorities, he traveled to Libya and gave advice to Islamic State followers on how to avoid law enforcement monitoring.
Mr. Maginnis, who stays in contact with local police in Virginia, said the wave of social media rhetoric against law enforcement has made their counterterrorism role more difficult.
“Given our open society, detached parents and politically correct schools, local police in Northern Virginia understandably hesitate to rigorously pursue young Islamist wannabes,” Mr. Maginnis said.
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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