By Naeisha Rose
Ali Saleh, 25, a former Jamaica resident, pleaded guilty to two counts of providing material support and resources to a terrorist organization, according to federal prosecutors and the NYPD.
“Today’s guilty plea shows that in collaboration with the FBI and the Eastern District of New York, our skilled investigators and analysts will stop at nothing to further the critical mission of defending society from acts of terrorism, wherever and however they are being planned,” said NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill July 24.
The defendant, who entered guilty pleas to the charges July 24 to Brooklyn federal court, was arrested as far back in September 2015, a few months after he abandoned his car when it broke down in New York City and police discovered 1,196 grams of low explosive powder hidden within some fireworks, according to law enforcement agents.
Not only did authorities find explosive powder in Saleh’s vehicle in July 2015, they also retrieved his cellphone, which had an electronic pamphlet titled “Muslim Gangs: The Future of Muslims in the West (Ebook 1: How to Survive in the West),” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn.
The pamphlet provided detailed instructions about how to create a bomb using the fireworks, which contained both pyrotechnic material and black powder, according to authorities. Saleh, who is from Yemen, also posted the guidelines online with the leaflet’s image of a soda can hand grenade.
An arrest warrant was issued for Ali Saleh on Sept. 16, 2015, after he left the car containing the bomb material, had an online presence dating back to mid-2013 on Twitter under numerous handles with posts of his support for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and made many attempts between 2014 and 2015 to fly to one country before connecting to another country known to have terrorist affiliations, according to the criminal complaint filed by federal prosecutors.
“Ali Saleh was persistent in his efforts to become a foreign fighter, but his persistence did not exceed the diligence of law enforcement,” said 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.”
On. Aug. 28, 2014, Saleh made reservations to go to John F. Kennedy International Airport to travel to Kiev, Ukraine, on Sept. 12 and planned to transfer to Istanbul Ataruk Airport, according to Special Agent Bret Luhmann of the FBI. Turkey is a point where individuals interested in joining ISIL often try to get to Syria to train in terrorist activities, he added.
“Many citizens of Western countries who have traveled from the United States and Europe to join ISIL in Syria have followed the route of entering Turkey legally and then being smuggled by facilitators across the border into Syria,” said Luhmann in an affidavit.
Saleh made several more attempts to train with ISIL starting on July 24, 2015 via JFK to Qatar Airways in order to then transfer to Cairo International Airport to get to Egypt, another country with terrorist affiliations, according to Luhmann. He did not board the plane because he was interviewed by Customs and Border Protection and law enforcement agents.
His second attempt was later in the evening to Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey where he spoke to airline personnel to inquire about flights to Cairo, but he instead left the airport.
In his third attempt, the defendant took the Newark Penn Station train to Philadelphia on July 25, 2015, arrived at Philadelphia International Airport July 26, 2015, and attempted to get to Cairo again, but was instead interviewed by law enforcement agents.
Eventually, Saleh traveled to Indianapolis Airport and went to a hotel in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he moved in December 2014 after living in Jamaica, according to the criminal complaint. Law enforcement officers followed him there and interviewed him in Fort Wayne, where he initially claimed his previous attempts to leave the country was to go on vacation to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, his native country.
In each attempt he made to leave the country he did not book a returning flight to the United States and days before he would make a reservation he would make comments under his Twitter username @alisaleh1292 about joining ISIL.
“I’m ready to die for the Caliphate, prison is nothing,” said one tweet made Aug. 25, 2014.
On Aug. 2, 2015, Saleh attempted to join ISIL a fifth time via an Amtrak train station in Cleveland, Ohio, but once again he was approached by law enforcement agents and he expressed his intention of going to Canada to catch a flight to Yemen, but then he left the train station.
Ali was arrested Sept. 17 and his sentencing is currently pending. He could face up to 35 years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose