A Jamaica man who stated on social media that he was “ready to die” for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) has admitted to attempting to support the terrorist group, prosecutors announced Tuesday.
Ali Saleh, 25, pleaded guilty to two counts of attempting to provide material support to ISIS. He is due to return to court for sentencing, where he faces up to 35 years in prison.
“Ali Saleh attempted to travel to the Middle East to become an ISIS fighter, funded other foreign fighters, posted instructions to make explosive devices and transported explosive materials,” stated United States Attorney Richard P. Donoghue. “The defendant’s persistent efforts to aid ISIS were defeated by the outstanding work of law enforcement officers who stopped him before he could do harm.”
According to court filings, Saleh made several attempts to travel to the Middle East to become a foreign fighter for ISIS after becoming interested in the Syria conflict in 2013. On Aug. 25, 2014, Saleh stated online, “I’m ready to die for the Caliphate, prison is nothing.”
Just three days later on Aug. 28, Saleh made an airline reservation to travel from New York to Turkey, and stated online, “Lets be clear the Muslims in the khilafah [caliphate] need help, the one who is capable to go over and help the Muslims must go and help.” Saleh was ultimately prevented from getting on the plane because his parents took away his passport.
Saleh then switch gears and began to try and facilitate others’ support for ISIS. In October 2014, Saleh used and online messaging platform to communicate with an ISIS supporter in Mali, sending him a wire transfer in the amount of $500 to fund that person’s travel to Syria. Around the same time period, Saleh reportedly communicated with several other individuals, including known ISIS supporters in the United Kingdom and Australia, in an effort to facilitate their support of ISIS.
In July 2015, Saleh bought fireworks with approximately 1,196 grams of low explosive powder and hid them in a concealed compartment in the trunk of his car. He drove the fireworks from Indiana towards New York City. The car ultimately broke down on the drive, and Saleh abandoned the vehicle.
Police were able to track down a cellphone owned by Saleh during this time period. On the phone, law enforcement found an electronic pamphlet which provided detailed instructions regarding how to create a bomb using explosive powder from fireworks. Saleh had posted the pamphlet’s image of a soda can hand grenade online with instructions on how to build an improvised explosive device.
Later, on July 24, 2015, Saleh booked a flight to Egypt from JFK International Airport, where he was denied boarding. Saleh tried to fly out of airports in Newark, Philadelphia and Indianapolis, but faced the same travel restrictions.
Saleh then tried to get around the air travel restrictions by taking a train from Cleveland to Canada, with plans to fly to the Middle East in Canada. However, after law enforcement intervention, Saleh did not get on the train and instead went back to New York City.
Following his many encounters with law enforcement, Saleh began to express his support for ISIS under new usernames online. On Aug. 24, 2015, Saleh stated online, “I am a terrorist.” Days later on Sept. 1, 2015, Saleh wrote, “If they aren’t implementing shariah [Islamic law] grab ur gun and implement shariah and see how fast the world turns against u.”
That same day, Saleh also stated online, “Akhi [brother] if implementing sharia [Islamic law] is easy do it in ur neighborhood and defend it from kuffar [the infidels] and give bayah [an oath of allegiance] to IS.”
“Ali Saleh was persistent in his efforts to become a foreign fighter, but his persistence did not exceed the diligence of law enforcement,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in Charge William Sweeney. “The defendant went to great lengths to attempt to travel to the Middle East, while funding other foreign fighters in the process. As the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force continuously strives to protect citizens from potential terrorist threats, today’s plea depicts one of the many efforts to achieve this goal.”