The online activity of Mufid Elfgeeh, whose arrest for attempting to provide material support for terror, attempting to kill U.S. soldiers, and possession of firearms and silencers was made public this week by the U.S. Department of Justice, underscores the centrality of the Internet in the radicalization and recruitment process.
Elfgeeh utilized multiple online platforms including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the android application WhatsApp to try to raise money for foreign terrorist organizations and to recruit three other individuals to join foreign terrorist organizations. His online activity also inspired him to devise a plot to kill Shi’a Muslims and former American servicemen at home.
Social media enabled Elfgeeh to not only learn about the activities of foreign terrorist organizations through videos, tweets and other online propaganda, but to also connect with apparent supporters of those organizations, in particular the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
According to court documents, Elfgeeh sought donations for terrorists in Syria through Twitter. Among his alleged tweets were requests that people donate a third of their salary or at least “#Five_thousand_dollars_from_every_household” to support militants in Syria. He also tweeted and retweeted statements of support for various terror groups including, “al-Qa’ida said it loud and clear: we are fighting the American invasion and their hegemony over the earth and the people.”
On Facebook, Elfgeeh was a member of at least two Arabic-language Facebook groups in which group members regularly post and share al Qaeda and ISIS propaganda. His own Facebook photos included several images from Al Battar media, an official ISIS propaganda wing.
Elfgeeh also allegedly used Facebook to communicate with individuals he believed were members of terrorist organizations and with the individuals he was recruiting about plans to travel abroad to join terrorist organizations.
In his recruiting, he initially suggested Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Al Shabaab as possible destinations, and later focused on ISIS. Notably, AQAP, Al Shabaab and ISIS are all terrorist groups that have become highly adept at distributing extensive English-language propaganda.
On April 22 2014, he allegedly posted a message on Facebook attempting to gain connections in ISIS, stating, “Whoever knows a brother from ISIS who is able to communicate well in English, can communicate with me through the private, due to the importance.” He also communicated directly on Facebook with an individual he was recruiting to join ISIS (the individual was in fact an informant).
Elfgeeh was allegedly developing a plot to commit multiple murders in the U.S. as well, apparently inspired by acts of terrorism around the world including Al Shabaab’s attack of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya and, in particular, by Mohammed Merah’s shootings in France.
His inspiration for this plot apparently came from watching videos on YouTube. He allegedly explained that he had learned about Merah’s actions because, “[i]t’s in YouTube.” He also allegedly had watched a video that provided justification and instructions for his plot: The video, he stated, “tell[s] you what to do …it’s YouTube…they call them here…’individual wolf’ (an apparent reference to lone wolf attacks).”
Elfgeeh is a 30-year-old naturalized American citizen. Originally from Yemen, he resided in Rochester, NY prior to his arrest where he owned and operated a store called Halal Mojo and Foodmart. He was arrested on May 31, 2014 and pleaded not guilty on September 18.
Elfgeeh is the second American arrested in 2014 for recruiting others to join foreign terror organizations, following Rahatul Ashikim Khan of Round Rock, Texas, who was arrested in June.