Tweets, texts, more helped FBI build case against alleged ISIL terrorist

arafat nagi official mugshot_157045

LACKAWANNA, N.Y. (WIVB) — In the course of building a case against a suspected ISIL terrorist sympathizer from western New York, the Federal Bureau of Investigation took to new media to gather evidence.

Police raided the home of Arafat M. Nagi, 44, on Wednesday, taking him into custody. Later in the day, U.S. Attorney William Hochul stood by law enforcement and released a federal criminal complaint, charging Nagi with attempting to provide material aid to the terrorist group known as ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The investigation, which took several months, pored through thousands of Nagi’s text messages, tweets and detailed information on the man’s purchases. They pushed to learn the man’s life inside and out before making the arrest.

Investigation circled around Nagi’s trips outside of the U.S., of which he planned four. Nagi’s first planned trip placed him on the FBI’s radar in 2001. He planned to follow the lead of the “Lackawanna Six”, a group of people who trained with al-Qaeda ahead of the terrorists attacks on September 11, 2001. Following the attacks, his plans were stifled, but the FBI interviewed him about his planned trip to Afghanistan.

He also planned a trip in October to Turkey, but planned to stay abroad for three months, according to details provided in the federal criminal complaint. The second red flag came ahead of this trip, where Nagi purchased a list of military-type items, commonly associated with ISIL.

Officials say he bought the following:

  • Body armor with side trauma plates on Sept. 3, 2012
  • A Shahada flag on Sept. 16, 2012. (A black flag with white script which says “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger” in Arabic.”
  • Army combat boots on Sept. 23, 2012.

On Oct. 20, 2012, Nagi departed an airport in Detroit and flew to Turkey, planning to stay for three months. His trip was cut short when he had a medical emergency. Nagi claimed to a friend in an email that his gallbladder nearly burst.

Nagi’s stockpiling allegedly continued about a year later, when he made a spree of purchases ahead of an arrest in 2013.

Officials say he bought the following:

  • An Islamic headband in “Middle East/Arabic/Allah/Hamas Style” on Jan. 26, 2013.
  • Military woodland camouflage combat men’s pants on March 28, 2013.
  • Black Kevlar hard knuckle tactical gloves on April 2, 2013.
  • Tactical combat stealth face mask on April 4, 2013.
  • Military style outdoor mountaineering backpack on April 13, 2013.
  • Military style combat tactical hunting knife, machete on May 5, 2013.

Just months after purchasing the machete, Lackawanna Police arrested Nagi for threatening to behead his daughter. Following the arrest, he continued to purchase four more items.

Officials say he bought the following: 

  • Large black Islamic seal of the Prophet Shahadah flag on Aug. 26, 2013.
  • A burn kit on Sept. 16, 2013.
  • Night vision goggles with a head mount on Sept. 22, 2013.
  • Camouflage long sleeve T-shirt on Sept. 23, 2013.

After stockpiling the military items, police say he planned out and set off on another trip outside the U.S. He departed for Turkey on July 24, 2014, and stayed there for 10 days before traveling to other countries over two months. Although this was his last trip outside of the country, officials say he planned one last trip in 2015, but was waiting on funds.

Police say with information on his purchases and travel plans, they detained Nagi when he returned to the U.S. on Sept. 19, 2014. Although officials kept details quiet, Nagi allegedly denied all claims that he was involved with or supported terrorist organizations.

FBI officials released Nagi, determined to continue their investigation. They turned to Twitter, text messages and chat services to learn more about what they deemed as suspicious behavior.

Officials say they found over 7,000 tweets on his Twitter account — most of which were in Arabic. The man’s twitter handle followed 278 different Twitter users, roughly half of which have ties to ISIL or militant action. Of the 412 Twitter users following Nagi’s account, again, roughly half had ties to ISIL or militant action. Officials highlighted several Tweets sent out on Nagi’s trip abroad which to them, gave evidence that Nagi was an ISIL sympathizer.

Officials say he tweeted the following: 

  • “May God protect you our leader, al-‘Adnani and our prince Abu Bakr al-Qurashi, the State, peace, will remain, God willing.” FBI officials interpreted this Tweet as regarding the Islamic State and its leaders.
  • “Whose wisdom is better than God’s? The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” FBI officials say Nagi was promoting ISIL in this Tweet.
  • “Oh, you who are defaming the Islamic State, its soldiers shall be present at time of death. Those who have brains ought think & learn.” FBI officials say Nagi was promoting ISIL in this Tweet.
  • “God is the greatest, Al-Nassiri’s soldiers, in Unit 17, have been slaughtered by the hands of God’s Soldiers.” The FBI says the Tweet was accompanied by a picture of six severed heads.

FBI officials also gained access to the messaging app called Tango. They pored through Nagi’s conversations and learned about several conversations between Nagi and friends or supporters. In one message from one of his correspondences, the FBI says Nagi admitted he wasn’t in Turkey in 2014 on a vacation.

“I’m only a few hours away from (the Syrian border)…I wouldn’t waste money I don’t have for a vacation I’m not careless with money like Fouzy…He couldn’t even give a dollar…That’s why he has no luck…But I’ll keep in touch n let you know how it went but it looks good for me Allah answered my dua,” Nagi allegedly said in a message to his friend.

An FBI specialist says Nagi routinely made admissions about the true purpose of his trips the Middle East area. One former FBI Special Agent who formerly ran Buffalo’s Field Office said the case demonstrates changing technology and the need for laws to remain up to date.

Much of the evidence named in the federal criminal complaint was obtained by gaining access to Nagi’s personal accounts through his email and IP addresses. The FBI then assembled all available evidence and worked with other federal agencies and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to put together a criminal complaint against the western New York man.FULL COMPLAINT | See the full criminal complaint against Nagi

If found guilty of the charges, Nagi could face 15 years in jail, a $250,000 fine, or both.

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