The fight against Islamic radicalization hit Dayton’s doorstep with the arrest of a 26-year-old man investigators said admitted to trying to fly to Syria to fight for ISIS.
Laith Waleed Alebbini said he was “the perfect recruit for ISIS,” according to documents filed in federal court detailing an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation using confidential sources.
“We’re devoting all resources that are necessary in order to make sure that we’re doing our very best to follow up on all possible national security threats,” said Benjamin Glassman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. “There are people who — for one reason or another — develop a desire to go join fighting with foreign terrorist organizations overseas.”
Alebbini, a legal permanent U.S. resident who came from Jordan in 2014, appeared in Dayton’s U.S. District Court on Thursday. Wearing dark pants and a maroon sweater, Alebbini was represented by a federal public defender.
A magistrate judge scheduled Alebbini’s detention hearing for May 2 and preliminary hearing for May 11. If convicted on one count of attempting to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, Alebbini faces up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, lifetime supervision and deportation.
On Wednesday, Alebbini was arrested without incident inside the Cincinnati/northern Kentucky airport before he got to the TSA checkpoint. He was ticketed for a United Airlines flight bound for Chicago and then connecting to the Middle East.
A subsequent interview at the FBI office in Cincinnati was audio and video recorded. Alebbini admitted he planned to travel to Turkey and fight for ISIS.
‘Just a few doors down’
Also Wednesday, Alebbini’s Northlake Cooperative apartment in Dayton was raided by an FBI terrorism task force.
“It’s terrifying,” said Northlake resident Ashli Johnson, who had seen Alebbini in the apartment complex. “I have a young (child), so it’s just all scary that it seems like it’s coming closer and closer and closer. Now, it’s just a few doors down.”
A University of Dayton professor who teaches classes about terrorism said: “It’s a concern in every community, so it should be no surprise in ours,” Mark Ensalaco said, mentioning the automobile attack by a radicalized student at Ohio State University.
The professors said the multiple confidential sources detailed in the criminal complaint and affidavit are key to uncovering plots by those not being directed by ISIS.
“That interaction is critical to prevent terrorist attacks,” Ensalaco said. “That’s really important in the environment we are in now, with all this anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric.”
Glassman said he would not discuss any evidence that may have been collected from Alebbini’s apartment or if more charges are possible because the investigation is ongoing. The search warrant has been sealed.
But an affidavit written by an FBI agent details Alebbini’s interactions with informants and his thoughts about ISIS.
‘Perfect recruit for ISIS’
On Jan. 23, 2017, the FBI and U.S. Secret Service interviewed Alebbini at the Turkish Embassy after he attempted to illegally enter that facility. During the interview, he admitted to posting pro-ISIS videos on his Facebook page.
“I am the perfect recruit for ISIS,” Alebbini said, noting that security at the embassy was lax and that, “(If) I had a bomb on me, I swear to God, three embassies would have gone down.”
Alebbini met a woman in Dayton he claims to be his wife and said he moved to the Dayton area March 1, according to the complaint. Glassman said Thursday the woman isn’t legally married to Alebbini and that she isn’t facing charges.
From March 3 to the present, Alebbini had multiple conversations with confidential sources —one of whom is now in the Middle East and one who is in the Dayton area, Glassman said.
“You need a regime like the regime of (ISIS) right now,” Alebbini is quoted in the complaint as saying to the confidential source. “They come to exterminate the old regime. They don’t leave anyone.”
The complaint lists multiple travel plans Alebbini made to try to get to Syria. In late March, Alebbini said he would throw away his permanent resident “green card” because he believes he was living among apostates who kill Muslims and that it will be used against him on judgment day.
‘Inciting the faithful’
He also allegedly said that he would rather stay 10 years in prison than one year in America. If he became a prisoner, Alebbini said at least he could say he tried to support the cause but was prevented from doing so.
On March 29, Alebbini met with a confidential source for about 77 minutes, and they discussed Alebbini’s plans. Alebbini did not board a train from Cincinnati to Washington, D.C., despite obtaining a ticket, the affidavit said, because he got into an argument with his cousins about the plan.
Alebbini said he wanted his wife to move to Jordan to raise his son, the affidavit said. In the same April 3 conversation with a confidential source, Alebbini said that if he joins Al-Dawlah (ISIS) and only fires a couple shots before he is killed, it would be good, because he would be inciting the faithful.
Alebbini said his Facebook account was disabled after he posted pro-ISIS videos. He also complained about politics in Jordan.
“Allah willing, when (ISIS) comes, it will cut the head of King Abdulla (of Jordan),” Alebbini said. “Then it will go to free Palestine. Things will be back to normal.”
MARK GOKAVI TWEETED ABOUT ISIS FROM FEDERAL COURT. FOLLOW HIM.
During discussions with a confidential source, Alebbini is alleged to have said his father told him ISIS would enter Jordan soon and that Alebbini told the source that the way to get to ISIS was to travel through Gaziantep, a border city in Turkey.
The affidavit said that Alebbini found anti-ISIS literature being distributed at a mosque and that he took the brochures and threw them in the garbage can.
‘Paying attention and listening’
Ensalaco said families will recognize if their sons are being radicalized by noticing changes in behavior and statements about radical Jihad or ISIS.
“It begins with vigilance, paying attention and listening,” Ensalaco said. “Being aware that this is a possibility, keeping an eye on someone’s social media posting and listening very carefully.”
Glassman didn’t say where Alebbini went to school or if investigators knew about the suspect in the two-plus years he was in the United States before the incident at the Turkish embassy.
Glassman said the FBI task force worked 24/7 for weeks if not months and that the labor-intensive investigation included recorded conversations, many in Arabic, that were translated in real time.
“And as you can see,” Glassman said, “we are willing to and do devote all resources necessary to make sure that we locate and stop those individuals before they are able to act.”
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