A Brooklyn man has been arrested in Florida and accused of wanting to join the terrorist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Federal prosecutors say Abror Habibov, who operated mall kiosks in Jacksonville, and two other men were arrested early Wednesday on charges that they plotted to travel overseas to join the terrorist group.
According to the criminal complaint, one of the men posted on an Uzbek-language website that serves as propaganda for ISIL that they wanted to pledge themselves to the terrorist group by shooting President Obama and then committing suicide.
"We too [sic] wanted to pledge our allegiance and commit ourselves while present there," a message written in August 2014 says, according to the complaint. "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, too shoot Obama and then shoot ourselves, will it do? That will strike fear in the hearts of infidels."
Habibov, along with Akhror Saidakhmetov and Abdulloh Ibn Hasan, were all arrested. Ibn Hasan was the one who allegedly wrote the message online about shooting Obama, according to the affidavit. Federal agents were able to track down where the message had been written and found Ibn Hasan, who reportedly admitted to having written the message.
Habibov, like the other two, hails from Brooklyn but operates his kiosks in malls in Jacksonville as well as in other cities throughout the country.
Saidakhmetov was reportedly arrested at JFK Airport in New York as he was attempting to board a flight to Istanbul. Ibn Hasan also had a ticket to take off for Istanbul sometime next month.
Authorities say Habibov assisted Saidakhmetov by hiring him on to work at one of his kiosks and by helping him purchase a ticket to travel to Turkey. The FBI was able to get to the men via a paid informant.
The feds also say Habibov had become concerned that authorities could start tracking Saidakhmetov if his mother had become concerned over his leaving the country. Habibov suggested the men stay in touch via Skype upon Saidakhmetov's arrival in Syria and offered to send money there if necessary. The feds were also able to record telephone calls among the men that seemed suspicious.
The phone calls featured discussions of documents and communicating via Skype to avoid detection. At one point, Habibov suggested meeting at a mosque for evening prayers and to "discuss details in private," the complaint says.
The complaint also alleges that, had the men been unable to travel, they would have begun plots for local attacks.
Authorities have expressed a concern over the possible growing number of men wanting to travel overseas to join ISIS, train with them in Syria, and travel back to the States to try to hatch a terrorist attack. The feds had become especially concerned about so-called "lone wolf" terrorist attacks, recently ordered by Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani. Al-Adnani sent out the order via a recording following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.
"The flow of foreign fighters to Syria represents an evolving threat to our country and to our allies," said Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, via a statement Wednesday. "As alleged in the complaint, two of the defendants in this case sought to travel to Syria to join ISIL but were prepared to wage violent jihad here in the United States if they were unable to travel."
The three men have been charged with attempt and conspiracy to provide material support. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Habibov is scheduled to appear before a court in Florida.
"We will vigorously prosecute those who attempt to travel to Syria to wage violent jihad on behalf of ISIL and those who support them," Lynch added. "Anyone who threatens our citizens and our allies, here or abroad, will face the full force of American justice."