Terrorism task force agents arrested at least 13 Seattle-area residents Thursday, accusing them of bank- and immigration-fraud charges and weapons offenses, and of taking part in a scheme to illegally import people from the West African nation of Gambia into the United States.
“This is one investigation that grew into three,” said Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
A copy of a search warrant said agents searched the Crescent Cuts barber shop in south Seattle, looking for training documents on urban warfare.
People who lived near the barbershop told NBC affiliate KING TV that several Muslim men — said to be employees and customers of Crescent Cuts — were threatening and violent.
In court documents, a neighboring shop owner, Bashir Hussein, said that some from the shop attempted to convert him to Islam. Hussein said he was beaten when he refused. In the court documents, Hussein said the barbershop was an “anti-American training ground for Muslims” and said were children being trained in combat, and compelled to watch videos in which fighting techniques were presented.
At another location in south Seattle, agents searched the Gambia International store, in a hunt for computers, photographs and birth certificates. The store sells a variety of apparel and personal items.
U.S.: No links to terrorism
In Washington, D.C., a federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said investigators have established no links to any international terrorist group, nor have they uncovered any specific plan for an attack.
The immigration scheme involved providing Gambians with fraudulent passports and other immigration documents, indicating they were from Sierra Leone, authorities said. Prosecutors said it is easier to gain asylum in the United States as a resident of Sierra Leone, because the country has been racked by war.
Those facing charges of conspiring to assist immigrants from Gambia were Souleymane Camara, Muhamed Njolo Tunkara, Bubacarr Tunkara, Muhammad Fofana and Mohamed Jawara.
Those facing charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud in association with the case were Karim Abdullah Assalaam, Attawwaab Muhammad Fard and Ali Muhammad Brown. A fourth man, Herbert Chandler Sanford, was not yet in custody, the clerk said.
In addition, at least two men were being charged as felons in possession of a firearm: Ahmad As-Sidiq and Zaid Mumin.
$10,000 in bad checks alleged
The bank fraud allegations alleged that one of the men under arrest, Assalaam, led a scheme to deposit more than $10,000 worth of bad checks into various accounts over the past several years.
The court papers do not expressly say how the bank fraud allegations related to the immigration violations, but prosecutors and federal agents indicated they were linked.
According to court papers, federal agents had been aware of the scheme since 2002, when an informant alerted them. The informant at times wore a wire to tape conversations with Assalaam.
In one such conversation, Assalaam allegedly said he was raising funds not only for personal gain, but because “you can’t go to war broke.” He said his “whole Muslim crew” was involved in the scheme, authorities said.
The FBI investigation involved setting up fake accounts and businesses to trick Assalaam into believing that his scheme was successful, court papers said.