Mufid A. Elfgeeh, 30, owns a Rochester, New York, store
Authorities say he made arrangements, set up contacts for two would-be ISIS recruits
They say he also bought guns, talked about shooting U.S. troops who had served in Iraq
A man who owns an upstate New York food store has pleaded guilty to trying to provide material support to ISIS, including by recruiting would-be jihadists to go to Syria and fight alongside members of the militant group.
Mufid A. Elfgeeh, 30, was arrested on May 31, though federal officials didn’t outline the case against him until Tuesday. According to an indictment, he faces three counts of trying “to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization” (namely, ISIS), one count of attempting to kill officers and employees of the United States, two counts of having an unregistered firearm silencer and one for possessing guns or silencers “in furtherance of a crime of violence.”
That same document claims that Elfgeeh also sent $600 to help a would-be jihadist go from Yemen to Syria and attempted to be a liaison between a purported Syrian fighter and ISIS leadership.
The federal investigation into Elfgeeh began in early 2013 and a world away from the Middle East, where ISIS (also known as ISIL and the Islamic State) has waged a brutal campaign in recent years. Citing the terror group’s threat to the region and gruesome tactics – such as the recent beheadings of two American journalists – the U.S. government has struck ISIS targets from the air in Iraq and threatened to go after it in Syria as well.
A look at Twitter suggests that Elfgeeh didn’t stand with his adopted country in this fight, according to an affidavit in support of a search warrant in his case.
He allegedly wrote in one tweet: “Al Qaeda said it loud and clear: we are fighting the American invasion and their hegemony over the earth and the people.” In another message, Elfgeeh purportedly stated ISIS “will one day rule the world with the will of Allah.”
The affidavit alleges that he urged people to donate a third of their salary or, at least, “#Five_thousand_dollars_from_every_household” (as stated in one tweet) – stressing the importance of supporting groups like ISIS financially.
But the Yemeni-born owner and operator of Halal Mojo and Food Mart, dubbed Mojoe’s by some, in Rochester may have wanted to be more than just a financial supporter. Court documents state that – if he couldn’t sell his store – Elfgeeh wanted to export “those who are fed up (and want) to go to war and be jihadists.”
The FBI informants were among those Elfgeeh actively recruited to join ISIS as jihadists, the affidavit states. He helped them by doing things like paying one of their passport costs, coordinating travel arrangements and setting them up with contacts in the terror group under the guise of going “to the university,” which was code for joining ISIS.
Court documents, citing Western Union records, allege that Elfgeeh also sent $600 to a Yemeni man that he believed wanted to join the terrorist group.
He may have had plans of his own in the United States. The affidavit points to conversations with the two FBI informants in which Elfgeeh talked about getting his hands on guns and ammunition to inflict violence stateside. According to the affidavit, Elfgeeh once said he might kill “five or ten already, 15, something like that … then we” will post video or another message online to explain why he did it
“We want … to start shooting those who were in the Army who went to Iraq,” he said in April, according to the document.
Authorities say they arrested Elfgeeh after he paid for and received two handguns, silencers and ammunition from one of the informants.
Elfgeeh is now in federal custody. If convicted, he could be there for far longer: The firearms possession charges alone have maximum 30 year sentences, the attempted murder charge maximum sentence is 20 years, and a count for providing material support to a terrorist group is up to 15 years.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the case shows federal authorities use of “all the investigative tools at our disposal” – from searches of social media platforms to FBI informants – “to break up these plots before individuals can put their plans into action.”
“We will remain aggressive in identifying and disrupting those who seek to provide support to ISIL and other terrorist groups that are bent on inflicting harm upon Americans,” Holder said. “… We are focused on breaking up these activities on the front end, before supporters of ISIL can make good on plans to travel to the region or recruit sympathizers to this cause.”
CNN’s Evan Perez contributed to this report.