A Muslim refugee was denied bail Wednesday in a Houston federal courtroom for plotting to bomb two local malls and pledging allegiance to ISIS.
Federal officials testified that Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, 24, planned to remotely detonate bombs at Houston’s Sharpstown and Galleria Malls. Authorities also said Al Hardan wanted to blow up vehicles at a military base in Grand Prairie, Texas.
“I am against America,” Al Hardan said to his wife in a recorded conversation in 2014 that prosecutors read aloud in the courtroom.“I will go to Syria. I am not wacko. I am not wacko. I am speaking the truth. I want to blow myself up.”
Al Hardan faces three felony charges of procurement of citizenship or naturalization unlawfully, attempting to provide materiel support to ISIS, and making false statements. He pled not guilty.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes heard testimony from Homeland Security Special Agent Herman Wittliff, who described Al Hardan’s plan to use cell phones as electronic transmitters to detonate explosives hidden in trash cans at the Houston malls. Authorities found a collection of cell phones in his apartment. In testimony Wednesday, authorities said Al Hardan had been buying parts on eBay.
When asked why Al Hardan was gathering parts, Agent Wittliff said, “So he could kill people.”
A confidential informant also reported that Al Hardan trained with an AK-47 at a farm outside of Houston, something that Al Hardan denied to federal authorities when interviewed.
The three-count indictment describes Al Hardan as a Palestinian national born in Iraq, who entered the United States as a refugee in 2009. He was granted Legal Permanent Residence status in 2011 and was applying for U.S. citizenship. Al Hardan lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Houston with his wife, parents and his 10-month-old son. The Houston Chronicle reported that the family was receiving food stamps.
Prosecutors claim that Al Hardan was communicating via Facebook with another refugee from Iraq who was living in California. Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab was also arrested last week and faces charges that he traveled to Syria to fight with an ISIS-affiliated group in 2013 and 2014. He is also charged with lying to authorities about those trips. Al-Jayab came to America in 2012 and lived in both Tucson Arizona and Milwaukee, Wisconsin before moving to Sacramento, California.
Al-Jayab promised Al Hardan he would give him weapons training and help him get assigned to a fighting squadron in Syria. Court records say that in one message Al-Jayab told Al Hardan, “O God, grant us martyrdom for your sake while engaged in fighting and not retreating; a martyrdom that would make you satisfied with us.”
The Wednesday hearing for Hardan came the day after President Obama lectured Republicans in his final State of the Union address saying, “When politicians insult Muslims…that doesn’t make us safer.”
When Texas Senator Ted Cruz was told about the arrests last week, he said “I commend the law enforcement for apprehending these two individuals, but their apprehensions raise the immediate question: Who else is there? What are they planning next?” Cruz is currently a leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination, where his chief opponent is Donald Trump, who famously called for a temporary halt on Muslim travel to the United States. Cruz has called for a review of refugees.
Al Hardan’s older brother Saeed Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, claimed in an interview with the Associated Press that he believes Omar is innocent. The older Al Hardan also lives in Houston and told the AP “Nobody likes ISIS at all. Nobody supports ISIS at all.”
The State of Texas recently sued the federal government over its plan to resettle Syrian refugees, citing security concerns.