In FBI Sting, Informants Impersonated Islamic State Fighters to Convince Man to Make Propaganda Videos

Amir Said Abdul Rahman Al-Ghazi
Amir Said Abdul Rahman Al-Ghazi (Photo from Cuyahoga County, Ohio) 

A thirty-eight year-old Ohio man was targeted in an FBI sting operation and arrested on June 19 on charges of attempting to “provide material support” to the Islamic State, possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, and trafficking marijuana.

The complaint filed against Amir Said Abdul Rahman Al-Ghazi alleges he took “substantial steps toward creating ISIL [Islamic State] propaganda videos.” He allegedly communicated with two individuals he believed to be members of the Islamic state and attempted to purchase an AK-47 assault rifle. He also allegedly expressed a desire to commit terrorism attacks in the United States.

US Attorney Steven Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio declared, “Today’s charges are a stark reminder that the radical and dangerous philosophies espoused by groups such as [the Islamic State] can be spread in our community through computers and social media.”

Special Agent in Charge Stephen Anthony of the FBI’s Cleveland Division stated, “It is clear that no area is immune from the influence of [the Islamic State] and its recruitment machine. We hope this arrest will serve as a strong message to others who may consider providing support to terrorists.”

However, Al-Ghazi “first came to the attention of the Cleveland FBI in December 2012, according to Vicki Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Cleveland FBI.” He was under surveillance apparently for about a year and a half until he allegedly pledged “his support to the Islamic State on Facebook.”

Al-Ghazi, who changed his name from Robert McCollum earlier this year, engaged in no direct action with any terrorist group prior to the FBI’s decision to target him. It does not appear he had the resources and capabilities to launch any kind of an attack. The only weapon he possibly possessed prior to government involvement was a pistol. He had not formulated a plan for an attack before the government became involved in his life.

Three paid informants were responsible for initiating plans and pushing him to commit any alleged criminal actions. They collectively acted to remove barriers and obstacles, which, if the FBI had not been involved, may have discouraged and prevented Al-Ghazi from attempting to provide alleged support to terrorism.

FBI’s Paid Informant Has “Extensive Criminal History”

One of the “confidential human sources” (CHS #1), according to an affidavit [PDF] by Special Agent Ryan Presley, is a “paid confidential informant,” who has worked with the FBI for three years. Al-Ghazi engaged with CHS #1 as early as August 2014.

A second “confidential human source” (CHS #2) is a “paid confidential informant,” who has also worked with the FBI for three years. CHS #2 has an “extensive criminal history” that includes “receiving stolen property, domestic violence, assault/kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, weapons under a disability, and fraud-related offenses that spans several years.” CHS #2 received “sentencing benefits/avoided other agency inquiries as the result of actions” of Presley and other Cleveland FBI agents. Al-Ghazi engaged with CHS #2 as early as February 2015.

Al-Ghazi communicated with another “paid confidential informant,” CHS #3, on April 13. Presley was not initially aware that this communication had been ongoing for nearly a year on Twitter. CHS #3 “identified himself/herself as being male, having resided in the United States and United Kingdom, and being an ISIL soldier located in Mosul, Iraq.” (Given this informant communicated with Al-Ghazi for about a year, it is unclear in the affidavit when CHS #3 presented his or herself as an “ISIL soldier.”)

On May 1, CHS #3, who Al-Ghazi believed was an Islamic State fighter in Mosul, “initiated the idea of Al-Ghazi producing ISIL videos in the English language to appeal to those located in the West.” Al-Ghazi allegedly responded that he was interested in documenting the “rise of jihad” in America and then he would “implement chaos to facilitate a way for jihad.” CHS #3 promised him that after his videos were complete they would be uploaded to the Islamic State’s “media arm.”

One of the FBI’s Paid Informants Takes on an Entirely “New Persona”

By June 14, the FBI apparently decided it would be more efficient to have another fake Islamic fighter talking to Al-Ghazi. CHS #1 created an entirely “new persona” and told Al-Ghazi he or she was a member of the Islamic State, who was located in the Middle East. CHS #1 informed Al-Ghazi that as a “member of ISIL” he would have to “assist with the group’s social media efforts” and claimed to be an administrator for an Islamic State-affiliated website. This was enticing to Al-Ghazi. (more…)