Sajmir Alimehmeti, 22, was charged Monday in Manhattan Federal Court with providing assistance to an individual he believed to be travelling to Syria to fight for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
The May 23 criminal complaint states that Alimehmeti had pictures and other files on his laptop and cellphone that showed support for ISIL. Prosecutors also allege he had purchased military-style knives for himself, as well as gloves with steel knuckles, a reversible face mask and handcuffs.
Last week, an FBI undercover agent induced Alimehmeti to ride around Manhattan on a shopping spree with another undercover agent who purported to be an ISIL supporter headed for Raqqah, the ISIL capital in Syria, according to the complaint.
The undercover agent bought a bag, a flashlight and a compass at a military surplus store while Alimehmeti allegedly advised him. Prosecutor say Alimehmeti and the undercover agent also discussed encrypted communication apps.
Although Alimehmeti did not make any purchases for the undercover agent, the criminal complaint claims that he did use his cellphone to locate several stores for the undercover agent and drove him from his hotel to JFK Airport, where the agent was purportedly departing from to join ISIL.
Alimehmeti faces one count of providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
He is also charged with passport fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment.
“Alimehmeti is charged today with actions that show a clear intention to support a terrorist organization that is hell-bent on murder and mayhem,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. “For that, thanks to the incredibly dedicated work of the FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force, Alimehmeti is under arrest and facing federal criminal charges.”
Alimehmeti was denied entry into Manchester, England, in October 2014, when authorities found camouflage clothes and nunchucks in his luggage, according to the complaint.
Alimehmeti was again denied entry into England in December 2014, after being detained at Heathrow Airport in London, where his cellphone and laptop were seized, prosecutors say. Authorities there reportedly ascertained that his cellphone contained images of ISIL flags and IED attacks and later forwarded to the evidence to the FBI.
The cellphone and laptop material allegedly included photos of Alimehmeti making the pointed index finger gesture used by ISIL to reflect support.
The FBI complaint claims that Alimehmeti’s laptop contained mp3 files of lectures about jihad and martyrdom, including some by senior al-Qaida recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011.
The complaint alleges that Alimehmeti admitted to having $2,500 saved up and that he and his brother “had [their] own plan” to travel to Syria via Albania, but that his brother was arrested on weapons and assault charges in Albania last year.
Alimehmeti was arraigned in Manhattan Federal Court at 3:40 p.m. Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein, who ruled that the presumption of detainment was not overcome by the defense.
Defense attorney Sylvie Levine, who works for Federal Defenders of New York, lost Alimehmeti’s request for home confinement along with a $200,000 bond that required three co-signers and a provision of restricted Internet access.
Alimehmeti appeared in court in a grey sweatshirt and donned a thick Amish-style beard without a mustache.
Gorenstein said Alimehmeti’s risk of flight was “well established by preponderance of evidence,” which he found consistent with Alimehmeti’s desire to join ISIL in Syria.
The judge referenced Alimehmeti’s two prior criminal convictions for robbery and assault/inappropriate touching in considering whether he poses a danger to the community.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan F. Quigley from the Office of Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit argued for Alimehmeti’s detention as a danger to the community and risk of flight, saying his arrest earlier that day at 5:35 a.m. uncovered an ISIL flag and survival/combat style knives.
Law enforcement also reportedly found Alimehmeti’s cancelled passport wrapped in $2,400 in cash.
Quigley said Alimehmeti has “limited ties to America” since his parents and brother are all currently in Albania.
The passport police recovered at Alimehmeti’s apartment was the one he fraudulently claimed was lost in order to obtain a new one.
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