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Feds say Facebook posts show terror links of Iraqi refugee arrested in Sacramento

Listening through an Arabic interpreter, Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab appears in Sacramento federal court last week.
Listening through an Arabic interpreter, Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab appears in Sacramento federal court last week. Special to The Sacramento Bee

The young man was getting anxious.

Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab, 23, had been in the United States since October 2012, an Iraqi-born man who had traveled to this country from Syria.

But almost as soon as he arrived and settled into a home in Tucson, Ariz., he was looking to return to the Middle East and pick up arms once again to fight the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad, according to federal court documents.

“I want to go back,” Al-Jayab allegedly wrote to an associate on Oct. 13, 2012. “God is my witness … I’ll go to Turkey and enter smuggled to Syria.”

This is part of the portrait drawn of Al-Jayab in various court documents that have been unsealed since his arrest in Sacramento a week ago and his indictment Thursday on a charge of lying to U.S. officials about his participation in international terrorism.

His federal public defender says he will plead not guilty next Friday to the charge and insists that Al-Jayab, an American River College student living in Sacramento with his father and brother at the time of his arrest, never planned any violence while in this country, something federal prosecutors also say.

“Until I receive and review all of the discovery, and until I've had time to discuss it with my client, I cannot say what it amounts to,” Assistant Federal Defender Ben Galloway wrote Friday in an email to The Sacramento Bee. “But I can say that my client had no intention of committing a terrorist act on American soil, nor did he have any intention of hurting any American citizen.

“To say otherwise is just not true.”

The case against Al-Jayab is laid out in a criminal complaint, indictment and search warrant affidavit in federal court filings, each made public in Sacramento over the past week. Those documents allege Al-Jayab lied to authorities about his travel overseas, praised anti-American acts and was involved at one point in the executions of three Syrian soldiers.

“We were using silencers in Damascus (on) control checkpoints, officers, everything,” Al-Jayab allegedly wrote to an associate in April 2013 as he recounted his past activities as a fighter, which he boasted began at age 16, court documents state.

Asked how Syrian soldiers reacted when he and his fellow fighters attacked, court documents quote Al-Jayab as responding, “They fall silent. They stiffen. I remember once I went down together with a brother. We executed … three.”

Those activities, if they actually occurred, apparently took place before Al-Jayab came to the United States in late 2012.

He arrived first in Arizona, then Milwaukee and, finally, Sacramento, where he began studying computer science and created a Facebook account showing him wearing fashionable Western clothing and admiring sleek, fast sports cars.

Court documents say Al-Jayab spent more than a year trying to scrape together enough money to get back to Syria, and that he finally succeeded in November 2013 while living in Milwaukee. An auto insurance settlement put $4,500 into his bank account on Nov. 6, 2013, and three days later he caught a flight out of Chicago to Istanbul, court documents state.

Federal officials believe Al-Jayab went overseas to once again take part in the war against the Syrian government, to again align himself with terror groups waging that war. The officials indicate in court filings that he lied to authorities about his overseas movements and motives following his return to the United States in January 2014, when he came to Sacramento.

Authorities also believe he corresponded with a Houston man, Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, 24, who was arrested last week after being charged with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State.

Al Hardan has pleaded not guilty, and a court hearing last week included testimony that he had plotted bomb attacks against two Texas malls, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Court documents say Al-Jayab corresponded with a man in Texas identified as “Individual I” (and who federal sources say is Al Hardan) about training him to use weapons once the two made it to Syria.

The FBI also says Al-Jayab’s use of Facebook was much more sinister than the public postings he made about fashion and cars.

In a search warrant affidavit unsealed late Thursday, the FBI ties him to two Facebook accounts linking to groups supporting Osama bin Laden and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – known alternately as ISIS or ISIL.

Al-Jayab allegedly corresponded via Facebook with an account identified as “Almuhajhir al Iraqi,” which federal agents had been tracking and which “appeared to be used to distribute ISIL propaganda and operate as a means of communication for individuals who are affiliated with ISIL and/or other terrorist organizations,” the search warrant document states.

Al-Jayab’s correspondence with that account used private messages and lasted from Aug. 26, 2013, through Feb. 16, 2014, the document states, including two messages in which Al-Jayab asked for money to travel to Turkey, writing in Arabic that he felt he had been left in America where he was as “useful as a woman.”

“Al-Jayab then apologized and stated he had run out of patience and just wished to die,” the document states.

Court documents relate how the FBI tracked Al-Jayab’s travel, as well as his contacts through the two Facebook accounts he maintained, one of which “displays Facebook friends who openly support Ansar Al-Islam and ISIL …”

Photos displayed on the accounts include images of the black flag used by al-Qaida units and “photographs of dead fighters,” the documents state.

The images include “a photograph of Al-Jayab in profile, kissing the face of a deceased individual who appears to have sustained a gunshot wound to the head,” the documents state.

“Al-Jayab posted this photo on or about May 12, 2013, with an accompanying poem written in Arabic, expressing sadness and stating, ‘May God receive you in heaven, my cousin,’” the documents state. “The photo appears to have been taken outside, possibly shortly after the death of the individual.”

The documents also describe “a photograph of an unknown, deceased fighter being attended to by another unknown fighter on what appears to be a battlefield,” and a photo of prisoners at the Guantánamo, Cuba, prison camp with a posting by Al-Jayab lamenting that “Sunni Muslims are the sole anti-American group” being held there.

Al-Jayab’s Facebook accounts also included a photo of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev posted April 22, 2013, with a comment in Arabic from Al-Jayab “praising Tsarnaev as a Muslim who humiliated the United States and who, according to Al-Jayab, belongs to God’s nation and is protected by Him,” the documents state.

Al-Jayab also posted a comment on July 8, 2013, praising a suicide attack that killed top CIA analysts in Khost, Afghanistan, in 2009, the documents state.

“This affidavit respectfully submits there is probable cause to believe Al-Jayab used the SUBJECT FACEBOOK ACCOUNTS to communicate privately with others regarding his association and involvement with ISIL and unknown terrorist organizations, and that he used the SUBJECT FACEBOOK ACCOUNTS to communicate with others about his travel to engage in the ongoing conflict in Syria and/or other neighboring countries,” wrote FBI special agent Jessi T. Groff. The agent signed the affidavit on Aug. 15, 2014, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Edmund F. Brennan approved the search of the Facebook accounts the same day.

Sam Stanton: 916-321-1091, @StantonSam

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