Rafik Naji, 38, of Brooklyn, New York, pleaded guilty today to one
count of attempting to provide material support or resources to the
Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist
Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Edward C.
O’Callaghan, U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue, Assistant Director in
Charge William F. Sweeney of the FBI’s New York Field Office and
Commissioner James P. O’Neill of the NYPD announced the guilty plea.
The plea was accepted by U.S. District Judge Frederic Block.
As detailed in publicly filed court documents, Naji, a lawful
permanent resident originally from Yemen, viewed and distributed ISIS
propaganda before traveling from New York to Yemen in March 2015 in an
effort to join ISIS. While in Yemen, Naji repeatedly tried to travel to
areas controlled by ISIS, explaining in emails with an associate in the
United States that he was on his fifth attempt to reach ISIS. Naji
described traveling through militarized zones and claimed that he and
his group had almost been “killed . . . by army.” In addition, he
explained that “we have trouble getting in the party” because there were
“to[o] many security [g]uards all ova the place” that would “kill us if
they find us.” Naji also sent his associate videos that he made in
Yemen. In one of the videos that was attached to an email with the
subject line “First day on the job,” Naji’s voice can be heard over the
sound of automatic weapons saying “I think we’re taking fire.” Naji
also sent his associate ISIS propaganda videos. In addition, in an
online conversation, Naji proclaimed his allegiance to ISIS stating, “I
belong to Islamic state only.”
Following his return to the United States in September 2015, Naji
continued to express his support for ISIS and violent jihad. For
example, he explained ways to travel to ISIS-controlled territory in
Syria by crossing the Turkish border, and how to employ strategies to
avoid arrest in Turkey. In July 2016, following the ISIS-inspired
terrorist truck attack in Nice, France, Naji discussed how easy it would
be to carry out a similar attack in Times Square, explaining that ISIS
“want an operation in Times Square” and stating that an ISIS
“reconnaissance group . . . put up scenes of Times Square.” Naji
further explained “if there is a truck, I mean a garbage truck and one
drives it there to Times Square and crushes them…Times Square day.” He
was arrested by members of the New York JTTF in the autumn of 2016. At
sentencing, Naji faces a statutory maximum term of 20 years’
Mr. O’Callaghan and Mr. Donoghue extended their grateful appreciation
to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), which comprises a
number of federal, state and local agencies from the region.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ian C.
Richardson and Melody Wells of the Eastern District of New York, with
assistance from Trial Attorney Brian Morgan of the National Security
Division’s Counterterrorism Section.