Center for Security Policy, by Jennifer Keltz, July 30, 2015:
On July 29, FBI Agents arrested Arafat M. Nagi for knowingly providing material support to a known terrorist organization, namely the Islamic State (IS).
Nagi was arrested in a home on Olcott Avenue in Lackawanna, New York. He is 44 years old and divorced with two adult children. He used to be employed as a deliveryman for a medical supply company but has not worked since 2009. He was previously arrested in 2013 for threatening to behead his daughter, who is now 21 years old.
In the criminal complaint lodged against Nagi, details are given as to the exact nature of the support he provided to IS. Nagi traveled to Turkey and Yemen multiple times in an attempt to enter Syria, and agents had probable cause to believe that he was able to join with IS operatives. He is believed to have used his family in Yemen as pretext to travel to the Middle East, giving him the ability to slip into Syria without drawing attention to himself. His now-defunct Twitter account offered praise to IS and to its proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The complaint also listed suspicious purchases he made online before his travels to Turkey, which included a tactical vest, combat clothing, and body armor.
Nagi’s defense attorney, Jeremy Schwartz, stated that the accusations against him are unfounded. Schwartz said, “He’s an American citizen, born here, and had no intention to engage in any terrorist activity.” Schwartz will plead not guilty on behalf of Nagi.
Lackawanna gained notoriety in 2002, when a group of six Yemeni-American men, known as the Lackawanna 6, was arrested for their association with Al Qaeda. The men had all traveled to Afghanistan, trained with Al Qaeda, and met Osama Bin Laden prior to the 9/11 attack in 2001. Nagi’s name appeared regularly in the early-2000s investigation of the Lackawanna 6. He apparently wanted to make the original trip with the 6 to Afghanistan, but was unable to do so, perhaps for financial reasons. He tried to take another, later trip but could not on account of the 9/11 attacks. According to Peter Ahearn, who ran the Buffalo FBI office that investigated the Lackawanna 6 in 2002, Nagi was never arrested or formally charged because “he never spent any money. He never provided the material support. He never really was able to get traction.”
The Lackawanna 6 were also connected to the Tablighi Jamaat Islamic movement. The movement is apolitical and mainly composed of South Asian Muslims, and it operates in 150 countries with somewhere between 70 and 80 million followers. It was designed to bring Muslims back to more orthodox roots. It is not violent by nature, but it does provide a conduit for violent, jihadist indoctrination because terrorist organizations use its message of calling Muslims back to their faith as a way to reach out to new recruits. Several Tablighi mosques operate in the US, and the movement’s US headquarters are in Queens, NY. The Lackawanna 6 was involved with Tablighi missionaries.
The criminal complaint filed against Nagi outlines years of hard work by the FBI to track his movements and learn about his sinister intent. Much of the information about Nagi’s activities in the Middle East is gleaned through conversations he had with family members, presumably his siblings. The complaint demonstrates the importance of the counterterrorism measures that exist in the US, but it also shows that the indoctrination of violent beliefs is not always an isolated event. Members of Nagi’s community, including close friends and family members, must be investigated too, lest they also try to run away to IS.