The Brooklyn Punks Who Dreamed of ISIS
They were Central Asian immigrants who dressed in hoodies and high-tops and looked younger than their 19 and 24 years. But prosecutors say they were headed to wage jihad in Syria.
The suspect who allegedly pledged to kill as many police officers and FBI agents as possible if he were not able to join ISIS was only 6 years old when we began our long war on terror.
Akhror Saidakhmetov is now 19 but looked younger as he was led into Brooklyn federal court to be arraigned on terrorism charges early Wednesday evening.
He was wearing the clothes that he had on when he was arrested on a jetway at JFK Airport, bound for Turkey and then allegedly Syria and jihad; bright red Adidas high-top sneakers, low-riding baggy jeans, and an oversize green hooded sweatshirt that made him look schoolboy small.
Behind him came his Brooklyn roommate and now co-defendant, Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, who had been 11 on 9/11. He was now 24 but also looked younger. He wore a green kufi cap, slip-on black shoes, regular fit jeans, and a gray hooded sweatshirt. He had allegedly posted online a willingness to kill President Obama or “plant a bomb in Coney Island” if he was unable to fly off to join ISIS.
In another terror case being heard eight stories above this second-floor courtroom, a jury had just been presented with documents that had been recovered from Navy SEAL Team 6 after killing Osama bin Laden. One letter had spoken of bringing jihad straight to the White House.
But bin Laden was dead, and much else had changed in the six years since the defendant in that case upstairs allegedly participated in a prime al Qaeda conspiracy involving less than a dozen men.
ISIS is now the prime lure for young jihadis, and they are flocking to it by the thousands.
The detention memo submitted by prosecutors in this latest ISIS case reports that the teenage Saidakhmetov rhapsodized online about seeing a video of the group conducting a mass execution of Iraqi prisoners.
“Allohu Akbar, I was very happy,” Saidakhmetov, a native of Kazakhstan who is a U.S. permanent resident, allegedly wrote of carnage such as repelled even al Qaeda’s present leaders. “My eyes joyful so much victory.”
Court papers report that Saidakhmetov told a confidential informant (CI) that his plan to participate in the barbarism had hit a snag, one that only the youngest jihadis would likely encounter.
“Saidakhmetov told the CI that he had wanted to travel to Syria to wage jihad. But that his mother had feared that he would do so and took his passport,” the papers say.
Saidakhmetov allegedly suggested that he might join the U.S. military to provide ISIS with intelligence and then set to killing American soldiers. He was recorded last month detailing another possible plan of action that began with acquiring a handgun.
“We will go and purchase one handgun…then go and shoot one police officer. Boom!…Then, we will take his gun, bullets and bulletproof vest…then we will do the same with a couple of others. Then we will go to the FBI headquarters, kill the FBI people.”
But he managed to secure travel papers that would enable him to fly off. He paid $570 to a travel agent on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn for a ticket to Turkey on Ukraine International Airways.
Prior to departing Brooklyn on Wednesday, Saidakhmetov was recorded saying that if he was stopped at JFK Airport, he would murder the police officer and then use the dead cop’s gun to kill those who responded.
Juraboev, an Uzbek who is a permanent resident of the United States, had also purchased a ticket and planned to make his own journey soon afterward. He did so even though he knew the FBI had been on to him since August.
The investigation had begun shortly after the Joint Terrorism Task Force allegedly traced a worrisome posting on a pro-ISIS website to his computer.
“Greetings!...I am in USA now but we don’t have any arms,” the posting said in Uzbek. “But is it possible to commit ourselves as dedicated martyrs anyway while here? What I’m saying is, to shoot Obama and then get shot ourselves, will it do? That will strike fear in the hearts of infidels.”
When FBI agents interviewed him at his Brooklyn apartment a week later, Juraboev was remarkably open about his desire to join ISIS in Syria if only he were able.
“In addition, Juraboev stated that he would harm President Obama if he had the opportunity to do so, but currently does not have the means or an imminent plan to do so,” court papers say.
During a second interview, Juraboev made a written statement in Uzbek proclaiming his desire to become a martyr in “the Islamic Caliphate.” He allegedly told the agents that his friend Saidakhmetov shared his views and also wished to join ISIS.
Electronic surveillance revealed that Juraboev was in contact with suspected ISIS representatives such as Abu Bakr Bagdodi Halifat Dovlati Islamiya, said to be an Iraq-based administrator of a website affiliated with the terror group. An exchange reproduced in court papers gives a glimpse of ISIS recruiting.
Bagdodi: “Even the Caliph himself is doing Jihad. How come you are not coming here? Or is it not Jihad for you? Or the oppression of Muslims by infidels is not enough for you? Or you want to wait until they enter your home?”
Juraboev: “First, I am in the land of the infidels. If right now I decide to go to the airport and go anywhere, except for Uzbekistan, they may arrest me. It’s because of what I told them about Obama…What should I do? I need to sneak out of here with extreme caution without being noticed by them.”
Saidakhmetov allegedly was seeking similar advice on another website, and he was subsequently recorded comparing notes with Juraboev.
Juraboev: “I am talking to our evening brothers.”
Saidakhmetov: “What’s new? Any information?”
Juraboev: “He says that the only way to go there is via Turkey, via Istanbul. Supposedly, none of them can help. In other words, since they don’t know us, they won’t help us.”
Saidakhmetov: “But a brother I talked to told me that if I get to Tuela, he would send the brothers to pick me up.”
Juraboev: “You cannot just pack and go. Someone has to meet you at dusk. Otherwise, they will not let you in if they don’t know you.”
Saidakhmetov: “That’s why it’s better if you communicate first. That’s what our bother said.”
Juraboev: “Once opium cross the border of the Islamic State…They will say, ‘This man belongs to us,’ and they will take you in.”
Another man, 30-year-old Abror Habibov, allegedly announced that he, too, wanted to join jihad. He fronted the money for Saidakhmetov’s ticket, though he did voice a concern.
“Habibov was concerned that Saidakhmetov’s mother would raise an alarm once she found out that her son had left, and that the authorities could then track Habibov and his associate down and prevent them from going to wage jihad,” court papers say.
Habibov owned a cellphone repair kiosk in Florida, where he was arrested on Wednesday and held for arraignment. Juraboev was picked up in Brooklyn as Saidakhmetov was grabbed at JFK Airport. Anyone who saw Saidakhmetov being collared must have wondered what this youngster with a wheeled suitcase could possibly have done.
Fortunately, Saidakhmetov was not able to make good on his alleged pledge to kill any cop who stopped him.
In preparing to depart for jihad, Saidakhmetov had neatly folded the cuffs of his jeans above his ankles in keeping with the current style. And that made him look all the more like a kid being brought into the principal’s office when he was escorted into court.
Juraboev’s cuffs were similarly folded. Pant legs breaking on his shoe tops would have been a throwback to days when al Qaeda was the No. 1 danger.
Juraboev asked for and received an Uzbek interpreter, who translated as federal Magistrate Lois Bloom reminded the two of their rights. She instructed them to respond verbally when asked a question.
“Do you understand that instruction?” the judge asked.
Juraboev silently nodded.
“With your voice,” the judge said.
“Yes,” Juraboev said.
“Yes,” Saidakhmetov said.
The prosecutor, Douglas Pravda, summarized the hyper violent jihadi aspirations of these benign-looking prisoners. Both stood with their hands clasped behind their backs, Saidakhmetov’s looking too small and delicate to murder cops and FBI agents.
“The defendants pose a significant threat to the country,” the prosecutor said.
And what was most alarming was that this might actually be true, particularly when combined with the other young jihadis who are only now coming of age after more than a decade of war. And ISIS recently issued a call for more lone wolf attacks, now apparently including wolf cubs.
After the two were remanded, Saidakhmetov’s attorney, Adam Perlmutter, termed his client “a 19-year-old kid…obviously scared, frightened.”
Saidakhmetov was also scary and decidedly frightening, with those dewy eyes that somehow saw mass murder as so much victory.