NY Pizzeria Owner Pleads Guilty to Trying to Recruit for Islamic State

Mufid Elfgeeh arrested Carlos OrtizDemocrat & Chronicle via AP
Washington, D.C.

A Muslim pizzeria owner in upstate New York admitted to law enforcement he attempted to recruit fighters for the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

Mufid A. Elfgeeh, 31, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Yemen, pleaded guilty Thursday to trying to provide material support and resources to ISIS before U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Wolford of the Western District of New York.

The Rochester resident pleaded guilty to two counts of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. He is facing a maximum penalty of 30 years in behind bars.

Prosecutors, under the plea deal, agreed to dismiss weapons counts and a charge of attempting to kill military members, in addition to charges of assaulting three sheriff’s deputies while in custody.

According to the plea agreement and other court documents, Elfgeeh used Twitter, WhatsApp and 23 Facebook accounts to disseminate propaganda about ISIS jihadists and their activities in Syria and elsewhere.

Court documents further show that Elfgeeh used social media “to declare his support for violent jihad, ISIL and other foreign terrorist groups; to inspire and encourage others to engage in violent jihad and/or pledge allegiance to ISIL and other foreign terrorist groups; and to seek financial contributions to assist jihadist fighters,” notes the Department of Justice (DOJ) in a press release.

The defendant, between December 2013 and the end of May 2014, recruited actively and tried to assist two FBI informants — referred to as Individuals A and B by investigators — travel to Syria and engage in jihad on behalf of ISIS.

“Elfgeeh sent anti-American ISIL propaganda videos to Individual B and arranged for an English-speaking ISIL contact to communicate with Individual B over Facebook about the state of affairs in Syria,” points out DOJ. “In addition, Elfgeeh paid more than $240 for Individual B to obtain a copy of his birth certificate, passport photographs and an expedited passport.”

“Elfgeeh also purchased a laptop computer and a high-definition action camera for Individuals A and B to take to Syria. The defendant provided guidance to Individuals A and B about traveling so that they could avoid detection and the vetting process involved in joining ISIL,” it adds. “In May 2014, Elfgeeh arranged for an overseas contact to coordinate the logistics of the trip and the admission of Individuals A and B into ISIL-controlled territory in Syria.”

Elfgeeh was arrested by the Joint Terrorism Task Force in May 2014 after buying two handguns and silencers that investigators say he planned to use to kill U.S. soldiers returning from deployment.

The plea agreement and other court documents further revealed that “Elfgeeh also sent $600 to an individual in Aden, Yemen, in an effort to assist that individual in traveling from Yemen to Syria for the purpose of joining and fighting on behalf of ISIL,” reports DOJ.

“In addition, in March 2014, Elfgeeh communicated with a Syrian national who purported to be the military commander of a battalion of fighters located in Homs, Syria,” it adds. “At the time, the battalion was blockaded in Homs and needed military support, including ammunition, mortar shells and explosives that could penetrate armored vehicles, to break out. Elfgeeh facilitated communication and coordination between the battalion commander and ISIL leadership for the purpose of the commander and his battalion pledging their allegiance to and joining ISIL.”

The defendant was among the first ISIS recruiters ever arrested in the United States, revealed U.S. Attorney William Hochul Jr.

“Elfgeeh wanted to be a source of support for violent jihad and serve as a facilitator for violent jihadists who wanted to travel overseas and fight,” the plea agreement declares. “In Elfgeeh’s own postings and messages on social media and statements … Elfgeeh stated that a person who helps or sponsors a fighter to engage in violent jihad obtains the same religious rewards from Allah (God) as the fighter himself.”

Elfgeeh is expected to be sentenced on March 17, 2016 in front of Judge Wolford.

“Thanks to today’s convictions, one of the first ISIL recruiters ever captured in this country stands convicted of terrorism related charges,” said Hochul. “While our case against this defendant will conclude with a very long jail sentence, our ongoing efforts to defeat ISIL and other terrorist groups will continue until all are brought to justice. As it did in this case, the public should continue to report to law enforcement any suspicious individuals or activities and thereby hasten the demise of these killers.”