For the second time this week, a Muslim was arrested in Ohio and charged with attempting to provide material support to an overseas terrorist organization.
In the latest case, Naser Almadaoji, an Iraqi-born 19-year-old who had obtained U.S. citizenship, was arrested Wednesday at the Columbus airport. The FBI says Almadaoji, who lived in Beavercreek, had an airline ticket to Kazakhstan, where he planned to be smuggled into Afghanistan to be trained by an ISIS affiliate.
On Tuesday, the day before Almadaoji’s arrest, a female Muslim named Alaa Mohd Abusaad was arrested in Sylvania, just north of Toledo, and charged with attempting to funnel money to al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria.
But teenager Almadaoji allegedly had more ambitious plans that involved trying to spark a civil war in the U.S. According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in Dayton, he was attempting to join ISIS Wilayat Khorasan, the Islamic State’s branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Almadaoji was arrested at the ticket counter at John Glenn International Airport after receiving his boarding pass. If convicted, he faces a maximum of up to 20 years in prison.
He migrated from Iraq to the United States about 10 years ago, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. While it is not clear how he ended up in Ohio, the most likely path to U.S. citizenship for a young Iraqi would be as a refugee.
He had been on the radar of U.S. authorities since at least February, when he arrived back in the U.S. from a week-long trip to Egypt and Jordan.
He was reportedly questioned by Customs and Border Protection agents on Feb. 24 upon his re-entry to the U.S., according to the criminal complaint. He mentioned during the interview that U.S military personnel had killed Muslims in the Middle East and needed to leave the region. He further stated that he “thought about” joining the Peshmergan militia in northern Iraq.
On or about Aug. 15, an undercover FBI source posing as a British ISIS supporter in Iraq, contacted Almadaoji through a text-messaging app, which is where Almadaoji’s gets weird.
In between conversations about when and where to make “hijra” – an Arabic word for migration – back to the Middle East as a fighter, Almadaoji told the informant he wanted to trigger a civil conflict between the U.S. government and anti-government militias.
Since he had failed to reach the battlefields in the Middle East, the undercover source asked Almadaoji if he’d ever thought about “assisting with some projects in your own country.”
“Of course I’m always willing,” the teenager responded.
A few days later, on or about Aug. 22, Almadaoji told the informant he had thought about their earlier conversation and explained his vision for fomenting civil war in the U.S.
“…I imagined a scenario of the collapse of the U.S. as a nation…. They have a lot of weak spots 2 really weak spots that would ignite the deadliest civil war on earth if the right spots are poked,” he told the informant.
In order to trigger his desired civil war, he thought about planting child pornography on the computers of militia leaders, then tipping off the FBI about the presence of the illegal content. He also spoke of assassinating militia leaders and blowing up federal buildings.
Almadaoji pledged his allegiance to ISIS, according to the complaint, and put together “a list of do’s and don’ts” for prospective ISIS recruits based on his travel experience to Egypt and Jordan. It included suggestions to “dress like a western guy,” buy a round-trip ticket to avoid suspicion by authorities, “delete anything suspicious in your phone” and if asked “who financed the trip, tell them you did.”
“Don’t freak out,” he wrote. “Remember Allah, put your trust in Him Subhanahu wa Ta’ala stick to your cover. Be nice to the officer questioning you, have a smile, keep direct eye contact, and of course be cooperative,” he wrote.
Almadaoji, fluent in English and Arabic, translated ISIS propaganda into a digital file that he titled “In The Name of Allah.docx.”
Almadaoji told his contact — whom he believed to be part of ISIS — “Don’t thank me . . . it’s my duty.”
He also claimed to be a follower of the late radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who according to the Investigative Project on Terrorism has inspired thousands of Muslims to become jihadists.
While he talked about domestic attacks, Almadaoji never stopped planning to travel abroad for ISIS training. He said he wanted to be trained in tactics that included kidnapping, executions, weapons, hit and run operations, and “ways to break into homes and avoid security guards. That type of training.”
“This is the third individual arrested by the FBI on terrorism charges in just over a week. As demonstrated by these arrests – two in Ohio and one in Illinois – the threat posed by terrorism remains extremely serious,” said Michael McGarrity, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, in a statement.
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Anthony Accardi is a writer and reporter for The Ohio Star.