HOUSTON (CN) — A 19-year-old man arrested after he allegedly made a bomb threat against the University of Houston during an online lecture and voiced support for the Islamic State group will make his first appearance in federal court Tuesday.
Ibraheem Ahmed Al Bayati, of Richmond, Texas, told FBI agents it was all a joke after he was recorded in a Zoom videoconference Friday asking a University of Houston professor, according to a criminal complaint filed against the teen that day, “What does any of this have to do with the fact that UH is about to get bombed in a few days?”
Al Bayati is facing two counts of making threats. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison and fined.
After making the threat, Al Bayati said “Dawlatul Islam Baqia,” Arabic for “Islamic State will remain,” drawing gasps from students on the call, FBI agent Keith Fogg wrote in an affidavit supporting Al Bayati’s charges.
“Al Bayati then held up his index finger and repeated ‘Dawlatul Islam Baqia.’ Based on my training and experience, Al Bayati’s gesture of holding up his index finger, which is often known as the ‘tawheed finger,’ is sometimes an indicator of radical Islamic ideology,” Fogg wrote.
Fogg says he interviewed Al Bayati that afternoon and Al Bayati gave him permission to search his phone.
“He admitted to being on the Zoom call, making the statements, and claimed that the whole thing was a joke, devised by him and a friend,” Fogg wrote in his affidavit.
Al Bayati identified himself on the Zoom video as Abu Qital al Jihadi al Mansur.
FBI agents found a text on Al Bayati’s phone in which his friend, named in court records as “Associate #1,” sent him a link to the Zoom class.
“After Al Bayati told him he had joined the class as ‘Abu Qital,’ the friend asked Al Bayati to ‘say some Arabic shit and leave lmaooooo,’” court records state.
Fogg also found text messages on Al Bayati’s phone in which he bragged to friends that he is known as an Islamic State recruiter, according to the complaint.
The Islamic State terrorist group rose to prominence in the power vacuum left in Iraq after the United States withdrew most of its troops in 2011. By 2014, the group had taken over more than 39,000 square miles in Iraq and neighboring Syria, once controlling the large Iraqi cities of Fallujah, Mosul and Tikrit.
Using slick recruitment videos often featuring its masked soldiers beheading prisoners, the Islamic State convinced hundreds of Europeans and dozens of Americans to travel to the Middle East and join its ranks.
In the U.S., 208 people have been charged with offenses related to the Islamic State since March 2014, according to George Washington University, which monitors extremist groups. Of those, 156 pleaded or were found guilty and were sentenced to an average of 13.3 years in prison.
With the support of U.S. Special Forces soldiers, the Iraqi Army ousted the Islamic State from the country in December 2017 and the group suffered another crippling defeat in Syria at the hands of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance led by Kurdish fighters, in February 2019.
According to Al Bayati’s criminal complaint, he used social media to find Islamic State supporters in an unnamed foreign city.
Despite his alleged recruitment efforts, he has not been charged with attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, the charges federal prosecutors typically bring against people accused of trying to join or help the Islamic State.
He is set to make his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sam Sheldon at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Houston federal court.
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