A twenty year-old college student in New York was arrested and charged with knowingly “conspiring to provide material support and resources” to the self-declared Islamic State. He was arrested, along with an alleged co-conspirator early in the morning on June 13, after law enforcement vehicles realized an undercover operation was botched because their targets recognized government agents were tailing them.
Munther Omar Saleh is a US citizen, who was living in Queens, New York. Saleh was enrolled in a college that “specializes” in aeronautics.
Conspicuously, neither the FBI, Justice Department nor the New York Police Department (if they were involved) has put out a press release announcing how pleased they are that agents were able to stop someone who was allegedly plotting a terrorism attack. Nor was a release with basic details of the case against Saleh published.
NBC News reported the FBI has accused Saleh of “plotting to carry out some kind of unspecified terror-related attack in New York.” He allegedly had two co-conspirators, including a 17 year-old who was arrested along with Saleh.
Like previous arrested individuals accused of providing material support to the Islamic State, there was no known plan for an attack formulated by Saleh. There certainly was no plan before a “confidential human source” or informant initiated the first communications with Saleh on May 7.
It also does not appear “judicially authorized” surveillance ever uncovered any evidence that Saleh was being directed by any members of the Islamic State. He did not obtain or create any explosives to carry out an attack.
What threat, if any, did Saleh ever pose?
According to an affidavit signed by FBI Special Agent Christopher J. Buscaglia [PDF], in 2014 and 2015, Saleh sent messages on Twitter that indicated support for the Islamic State fighters. He tweeted, “i fear AQ could be getting too moderate.” He sent tweets in January and February expressing “support for the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in Paris, France; the immolation of Jordanian Air Force pilot Lt. Muath al-Kasasbeh by ISIL; the beheading of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto by ISIL; and the establishment of an ISIL military presence and Sharia law in New York City.”
As repugnant as all of those messages happen to be, those messages still fall into the realm of speech that should be protected by the First Amendment. None of them indicate that Saleh is clearly threatening a terrorist attack.
The affidavit states, on March 9, Saleh emailed himself propaganda produced by an organization, Ghuraba Media Foundation, which produces content intended to support the Islamic State and the terrorist group’s mission. In May, he tweeted his support for those who committed the attack in Garland, Texas, against the “Draw Muhammad” cartoon contest. And, in February, his messages on Twitter suggested he has been translating videos published by the Islamic State from Arabic into English.
Again, though entirely lawful, all of this is despicable and repulsive conduct. But is this the conduct of a homegrown terrorist, someone on the path to carrying out an attack?
On March 22, a Port Authority police officer saw Saleh walking with a lantern as he approached the George Washington Bridge on the Fort Lee, New Jersey side. Saleh apparently wanted a ride across the bridge. The officer directed him to a bus terminal. Saleh did not take a bus.
Saleh was on the George Washington Bridge a day later. He looked around “repeatedly while walking along the bridge.” The Port Authority police officer had him come to the Port Authority office in Fort Lee to answer some questions.
Law enforcement personnel from the Joint Terrorism Task Force questioned Saleh about why he was going to New Jersey, what he thought of the Islamic State, and whether he knew anyone who talked about traveling to Syria. Saleh allegedly said he “was not sure” about the Islamic State and heard “they were murdering children.” He claimed to disapprove of the Islamic State and said he “did not condone violence.” (more…)