A naturalized American citizen from Iraq named Bilal Abood was arrested by FBI agents in Texas on Thursday, on charges of lying to law enforcement about his formal pledge of allegiance to ISIS and its “caliph,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Abood worked as a translator for the U.S. military before moving to the United States. He was living in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite at the time of his arrest, and was a licensed security guard, according to NBC 5 News in Dallas.
Abood has been on the counter-terrorist radar screen since 2013, when he was prevented from boarding a flight to the Middle East at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and interviewed by the FBI. He initially claimed he wanted to visit his family in Iraq, but later admitted his intention was to make his way to Syria and take up arms against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. At the time, he said his sympathies lay with the Free Syrian Army, a prominent “moderate” rebel group supported by the U.S. government.
The New York Times says that about a month later, an FBI informant said Abood was “watching videos about the Islamic State and had said that he wanted to support it.” He made another attempt to reach Syria, this time traveling from Mexico to Turkey first, and was successful.
Upon his return to Texas in September 2013, he told the FBI he spent his time in Syria training with the FSA, but “became frustrated with a lack of action,” so he gave up and returned to the U.S.
At this point, the Abood saga assumes a rather… leisurely pace, considering he had all the telltale signs of a “lone wolf” jihadi. Ten months after Abood came home from Syria, the FBI obtained a warrant, searched his computer, and found his oath of fealty to the Islamic State “caliphate,” delivered via Twitter.
NBC 5 says his browser history also indicated a taste for ISIS beheading videos, and he used Twitter to spread information about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Evidently the Bureau kept this discovery quiet, because nine months later, agents asked him about his pledge of allegiance to ISIS, which he falsely denied making. Another month would elapse before Abood’s arrest on Thursday.
“It was not clear why agents waited nearly a year to arrest him,” writes NBC 5 News “Abood does not face a terrorism charge, and there is no allegation he was planning any attacks in the United States.”
FBI officials told the New York Times the timing of the arrest “reflected increasing wariness about the possible threat posed by known devotees of the Islamic State inside the United States.”
The Dallas Morning News says that “if found guilty, Abood is looking at eight years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.”
The obvious reason for leaving Abood to his own devices for a year would be keeping him under surveillance and hoping he led agents to other suspicious individuals. CNN suggests the jihad attack on Pamela Geller’s Mohammed Art Exhibit in Garland, Texas prompted more aggressive action against “lone wolf” suspects already under observation, saying FBI Director James Corner “ordered counterterrorism investigators last week to reassess cases of people who the FBI was already tracking to determine whether more action was necessary against suspects.”
The emphasis now, according to what officials told CNN, is on “moving more quickly to take possible threats off the streets, instead of waiting longer to monitor and build an investigation against suspects.”