A federal judge ordered a Chicago man into federal custody Friday on charges he conspired to provide material support to a terrorist organization.
Ashraf Al Safoo, 34, allegedly spread ISIS propaganda on social media to recruit and encourage people to commit violent acts in support of the terrorist group. Al Safoo, a naturalized American citizen of Iraqi descent, is an active member of the Khattab Media Foundation, an organization that creates pro-ISIS videos, articles and essays to spread across the internet, according to a criminal complaint.
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“This charge demonstrates that in order to keep our communities safe, law enforcement will vigorously pursue those who provide material support — in whatever form — to designated foreign terrorist organizations,” U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch said in a news release. “Today’s arrest is a testament to the commitment and dedication of our prosecutors and law enforcement partners who stand watch over our country.”
Al Safoo reposted an oath of allegiance to ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghadadi, from Khattab to at least three social media groups, the complaint states. The FBI claims Al Safoo encouraged others in the organization's "Staff Group" to keep sharing the ISIS messages and called efforts to shut down accounts part of a "media war."
"Participate in the war, and spread fear," Al Safoo allegedly posted May 23. "The Islamic State doesn't want you to watch these publications only, rather IS [ISIS] wants to mobilize you. If you can't, then work on mobilizing others for the cause."
Al Safoo and other Khattab members planned Twitter "raids," posting pro-ISIS propaganda in mass efforts to their own accounts and hacked accounts they had taken over, the FBI claims. He also instructed other Khattab members on how to use VPNs (virtual private networks) to conceal their identities.
Jeffrey S. Sallet, the special-agent-in-charge of the FBI's Chicago office, said in a news release that the safety of the American public was the bureau's highest priority.
“Home-grown terrorists and ‘lone-actor’ operators continue to represent a threat to the homeland,” Sallet said. “The arrest today should send a clear message to these individuals, no matter who you are or where you may be, we will find you and arrest you."
Al Safoo faces up to 20 years in prison on the conspiracy charge.