U.S. citizens have been recruiting for and working with the Islamic State since as early as December 2013 and have been using the instant messaging program WhatsApp to do it. Federal Authorities accused New York resident Mufid A. Elfgeeh of collaborating with the Islamic State and plotting attacks on U.S. soil, according to a Grand Jury indictment filed with the District Court of Western New York.
Yemeni-born Elfgeeh, 30, was indicted on seven counts ranging from supporting a foreign terrorist organization to threatening to kill U.S. officers, according to court documents filed Tuesday. He is a naturalized resident of the United States and a store owner in Rochester, New York. He was also helping to fund and plan potential ISIS recruits’ journeys from New York and Yemen to Jordan and Syria, according to the indictment.
Elfgeeh “knowingly did attempt to provide material support and resources … that is, personnel, specifically, a person known to the grand jury and identified here as Individual A, to a designated foreign terrorist organization, namely the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (“ISIL”) a/k/a the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (“ISIS”),” court documents stated.
Albert Zenner, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, requested a search warrant for three phone numbers associated with WhatsApp accounts. One number had a Rochester, New York, area code, a second had a Syrian area code and the last was a Yemeni number. In his communications, Elfgeeh referred to joining the Islamic State as “go to the university.” Recruits were called “university students.”
The warrant request also stated that Elfgeeh’s many Twitter accounts were being used to drum up support for ISIS' “violent jihad.”
Elfgeeh did not go to Syria and fight with ISIS but was part of a larger network of recruiters operating in the West. They’re ISIS supporters and jihadi mentors who operate online or through their local communities helping potential recruits get from point A to the Islamic State.
“If you’re in a city where you have an actual physical person, that could be one of the routes,” Mubin Shaikh, a former militant recruiter turned national security operative in Canada, previously told the International Business Times. “Maybe not. Maybe you’re using another recruit, because there are several. They act autonomously, but they feed into the same product, which is bringing guys over, guys that they know are trustworthy and that ISIS can use as fodder.”
In one instance, Elfgeeh provided financial support and mentoring using Facebook and WhatsApp for a potential ISIS recruit in Yemen, according to the search warrant. In another case, he attempted to convince a New York resident to go to Syria and fight. Elfgeeh’s plan was to send the recruit from New York to Turkey through Jordan, cross into Syria using a “trustworthy” person from al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra and “that’s it.”
In addition to recruiting in three separate instances for ISIS, Elfgeeh was also indicted for attempted murder of United States officers and government employees. Those on his list were largely “current and former members of the United States military, on account of the performance of their official duties,” according to court documents. He was hoping to shoot military veterans returning to New York from Iraq.
In one instance Elfgeeh told an unnamed Somali man that if he killed a former U.S. military member, he would “get a reward” from God, according to the search warrant. “If you kill him in the cause of Allah then you have defended our sanctities and avenged their blood,” Elfgeeh reportedly said.
ISIS has successfully recruited foreign fighters from at least 81 countries, according to a study from the Souffan Group released in June. The U.S. State Department said it knows of “dozens” of U.S. citizens currently fighting with ISIS.