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Did the FBI Really Disrupt ISIS-Inspired Terrorism Plots Planned for Fourth of July?

FBI Director James Comey claimed to reporters more than 10 individuals arrested over the past four weeks allegedly had ties to the Islamic State, and some of the individuals planned terrorist attacks for Independence Day.

During a briefing at FBI headquarters, Comey said, “We’ve arrested more than 10 people in the last four weeks.” All of the arrests were “’products’ of online recruiting and radicalization efforts by the Islamic State and that ‘some of them were focused on the Fourth of July.'”

“I do believe we disrupted efforts to kill people in connection to the Fourth,” Comey also stated.

If true, it would validate much of the fear-mongering in news media by news hosts, pundits, and current and former officials, who appeared as guests to talk about the “threat” of July 4th attacks before the holiday. However, Comey was referring to people arrested before a bulletin from the FBI and Homeland Security was distributed to law enforcement agencies.

The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima quoted unnamed US officials, who claimed the list of people arrested include individuals arrested in New York, New Jersey, and Boston.

Two of the suspects, which allegedly planned attacks are Munther Omar Saleh, a twenty year-old college student in New York arrested on June 13, and Alaa Saadeh, a twenty-three year-old from New Jersey arrested on June 29.

Neither of the complaints against Saadeh or Saleh mention the possibility that the two were involved in the planning of attacks around the Fourth of July.

According to an affidavit by an FBI special agent [PDF], on April 27, 2015, the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force received a tip from an individual that a co-conspirator (“CC-1”), Saadeh, and Samuel Rahamin Topaz were planning to travel to join a “foreign terrorist organization.” The individual responsible for the tip informed the FBI of CC-1’s alleged radicalization and support for the Islamic State.

CC-1 is Saadeh’s brother. In April, Saadeh’s brother bought a plane ticket for Jordan. He allegedly planned to study theology abroad, which the individual found to be suspicious because “CC-1 had never been very studious.”

A second individual informed the FBI that Saadeh’s brother planned to travel from Jordan to Turkey and then to other countries “in the Middle East in order to help his Muslim brothers.” Saadeh’s brother apparently believed he could not “do good” in the United States and “needed to go abroad.”

Saadeh was “on the fence” about traveling. His brother shaved off his beard because he “did not want to be harassed by officials on his way to Jordan.”

The FBI intercepted messages from Saadeh’s mother and other individuals seeking to persuade Saadeh’s brother to presumably not join the Islamic State. One rather moving example:

…[Y]our mother called me. She was crying and was subdued because of your issue. She said that you want to travel to Turkey and join a group of people you do not know who they really are. They seduce you under the flag of Islam, but when you get to them, you see things that make you hate your situation. Many young men left here. and went to them. However, when they saw the situation there, they escaped and said: “We witnessed humiliation, insult, poverty, hunger and cruel acts that have nothing to do with Islam and the religion.” My dear, please, think about it. We all love you and we are not satisfied with your way of thinking. If you aim at the afterlife, you should obtain your parents’ satisfaction, build a family, and make us happy. May God be pleased with you, do not torture us because you are loved by all the people[.]

Saadeh’s brother purchased a ticket to Amman, Jordan, on April 30, and used Saadeh’s credit card, which the FBI claims was furtherance of a conspiracy.

US authorities allowed Saadeh’s brother to board his flight and travel to Jordan. He was detained by Jordanian authorities and was held in solitary confinement for five days.

There is a second co-conspirator mentioned in the affidavit. “CC-2” is Saleh, who was arrested on June 13.

Saleh may or may not have been planning some kind of terrorism act in the United States. However, there are two critical points related to his arrest that should be acknowledged.

The FBI blew its undercover operation when Saleh and another person arrested with him recognized they were being tailed by undercover agents. Saleh and this person were immediately arrested after the agents’ cover was blown.

Saleh was arrested on June 13. Saadeh and others were not discussing plans for an attack but rather were contemplating leaving the US to join the Islamic State.

There is no information in the affidavits submitted in either of the complaints against Saleh or Saadeh to suggest any plans were being coordinated for a specific attack timed to the Fourth of July. Yet, this is one alleged ISIS-inspired cell the FBI claims the agency disrupted.

*

A second ISIS-inspired “cell” was allegedly in Boston. The FBI claims it stopped David Wright, a twenty-five year-old from Everett, Massachusetts, Nicholas Rovinski, a twenty-four year-old from Rhode Island, and Usaamah Abdullah Rahim, a twenty-six year-old from Roslindale, Massachusetts, who police killed on June 2 [PDF].

It is rather absurd to claim that these men ever planned anything timed to the Fourth of July. The three men allegedly planned to behead Pamela Geller, an extremist known for her radical views against Islam. They wanted to kill her for organize a Prophet Muhammed drawing contest in Garland, Texas, in May.

However, the three men could not agree on attacking Geller. Rahim allegedly decided he would launch an attack all by himself against police in Massachusetts on June 2. Rahim was killed by police. The FBI subsequently interviewed Wright and Rovinski immediately after. And there is nothing in the affidavit about plans to wait and behead Geller on the Fourth of July to send a message to the world.

What the FBI would like the US public to believe is that individuals arrested days before the Fourth of July represented threats that were thwarted. If the FBI had not arrested them, they might have launched attacks inside the US. But, aside from the fact that the FBI apparently uncovered no evidence of a plot in either case, this is purely speculative.

Even if the facts supported the notion that these two suspected Islamic State supporters planned to launch attacks around the Fourth of July, why wait until five days after to reveal that arrests before the Fourth of July were connected to attacks planned for the holiday?

In the case of the “cell” in New York and New Jersey, either it took the FBI this long to figure out that the men they were closely monitoring were planning some kind of terrorism act or the FBI was deliberately keeping quiet so the agency could maintain a sense of fear around the holiday. Or, the FBI did not thwart any attacks planned for the Fourth of July at all.

Regardless, it amounts to propaganda to publish headlines, which quote the FBI director and accept his claims of thwarting terrorist attacks without question.

Comey even acknowledged “it’s impossible to know how many of those arrested would have committed violence on the Fourth as opposed to another day.” Yet, he insisted the FBI “cannot wait until July 3 to catch someone.”

Such a statement deliberately obscures the issue. A routine warning put out by the FBI and Homeland Security to law enforcement around the Fourth of July was exaggerated and hyped as serious when there was zero evidence of a specific threat to any persons or places in the UniteD states. And now, after the fact, the FBI director—as well as some media like CNN—would like to justify their hysteria so as to avoid embarrassment.

There is no concrete evidence that there ever was a Fourth of July threat, and until concrete evidence is presented, efforts to link previously arrested terrorism suspects to the fear alert put out far and wide ahead of the holiday should be roundly dismissed as preposterous.

Image is a Creative Commons-Licensed Photo from the Brookings Institution of FBI Director James Comey

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."