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Queens student busted for alleged terrorist support

Photo courtesy of Scott Bintner/Property Week

A 20-year-old college student living in Queens is accused of trying to help a terrorist group after he was arrested in an alleged confrontation with law enforcement, according to federal court documents.

The criminal complaint, filed in the Eastern District of New York, charges Munther Omar Saleh with knowingly conspiring to provide material support and resources, including service and personnel, to the foreign terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The U.S. citizen enrolled in January as a student at a college described as specializing in aeronautics located in the borough, and started coursework and laboratory work in electrical circuitry, court records said.

An investigation by the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) revealed that Saleh, also known as “Abu Omar al Ramil” and “Abu Omar ar-Ramil,” “espouses violent jihadists beliefs and is a fervent supporter” of ISIL, the complaint said, which has been demonstrated by his online activities in 2014 and 2015.

That support allegedly consisted of trying to make an explosive device to set off in the New York City area on behalf of ISIL and offering them help by translating propaganda materials to English.

Saleh’s online activity included tweets in support of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks, the beheading of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto by ISIL, the establishment of an ISIL military presence and Sharia law in New York City, and more recently the terrorist attack in Garland, Texas, according to court records.

A search of his computer and electronic surveillance of his online activity, including tweets, also revealed his translation work.

On March 15, a Port Authority police officer spotted Saleh walking toward the George Washington Bridge from the New Jersey side, court records said. He asked the officer for a ride across, and was told he could take a bus to the New York side of the bridge, but it was later determined that he never took the bus.

The following day, the same officer allegedly saw him walking on the bridge from New Jersey as Saleh was looking around repeatedly. The officer asked Saleh to accompany him back to the Port Authority office in Fort Lee, where he was later interviewed by a JTTF law enforcement officer.

During the interview, he reportedly said had gone to New Jersey to visit a friend and, when asked what he thought of ISIL, first said was not sure, but then expressed disapproval and stated he did not condone violence. He also consented to a computer search.

Authorities also believe that his activities revealed a “continuing effort to conduct a terrorist attack on behalf of ISIL, including by learning how to construct and detonate an explosive device,” according to the criminal complaint, and that his coursework in electrical circuitry could be “useful in the construction of an explosive device.”

Among his Internet activity that pointed to his alleged intent included a May 7 email to himself that contained information about the construction of a pressure cooker bomb and searches for parts that could be used in an explosive device.

On May 10, law enforcement members surveilling Saleh also observed him enter a spy store in Queens, which they believe sells products that could be used in a device.

There were also searches of New York City landmarks and tourist attractions, surveillance cameras, weapons, ammunition, remote control helicopters and drones that piqued law enforcement interest.

In the early morning of June 13, a co-conspirator was driving Saleh and another co-conspirator, both of whom were not identified, when law enforcement members, performing surveillance, allegedly observed the Jeep running stop signs and driving quickly through a parking lot with the vehicle’s lights off.

At about 4 a.m. while stopped at red light on 20th Avenue near the Whitestone Expressway, Saleh and the other passenger exited the car and took several steps toward the law enforcement vehicle before returning to the Jeep, court documents said. Moments later, the pair then got out of the car again and ran toward it, one going at each side. The car had to reverse to avoid them.

Saleh and the passenger were arrested at the scene and a search turned up a Smith & Wesson folding tactical knife in the waistband of the passenger’s pants. While they were detained, the two allegedly said they knew they were being followed for several days by several vehicles.

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