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Wednesday, July 25, 2018 1:00 am

Man with local ties in terror case

Lived in city for months; guilty of trying to aid ISIS

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

A New York City man who lived for several months in Fort Wayne pleaded guilty Tuesday to trying to aid the Islamic State terrorist group, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Ali Saleh, 25, of Queens, faces up to 35 years in prison when sentenced by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

“Saleh was undeterred in his many attempts to travel to join ISIS, and although he failed in these efforts, he turned his attention to assisting others online to join ISIS's murderous mission in Syria,” John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said Tuesday in a statement.

Saleh was charged in September 2015 with attempting to provide material aid to a foreign terrorist organization.

While tracking Saleh in the summer of 2015, law enforcement agents followed him to a Fort Wayne hotel, according to court documents. They said he told them on July 29 that he had lived with two co-workers in Fort Wayne since December 2014.

During that interview, Saleh said he recently had tried to take flights to Qatar from New York and Philadelphia but had been denied permission to board them. Law enforcement agents said he told them that “his true intention in attempting to travel to Yemen recently was to try and join a militia training camp where he could train in order to protect the Sunni people around the city of Yafa, Yemen,” according to an affidavit.

The Justice Department told The Journal Gazette that Saleh's employer in Fort Wayne and where he lived in the city are not public information.

Also in July 2015, Saleh obtained fireworks and was driving them from Indiana to New York City when his car broke down and he abandoned it, according to court records. Law enforcement agents said they found on his cellphone an electronic pamphlet with instructions on creating a bomb using explosive powder from fireworks. They said Saleh posted online the pamphlet's image of a soda-can grenade with instructions on building an improvised explosive device.

The same month, Saleh visited international airports in Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Newark, New Jersey. 

According to court records, Saleh since 2014 had tried to travel from the United States to Turkey and Egypt; sent $500 to fund an Islamic State supporter's travel to Syria; communicated with other supporters of the terrorist group; and had stated online “I'm ready to die for the Caliphate, prison is nothing” in 2014 and, in 2015, “I am a terrorist” and “If they aren't implementing shariah grab ur gun and implement shariah and see how fast the world turns against u.” Shariah is Islamic law.

U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue for the Eastern District of New York said Tuesday in a statement that Saleh “attempted to travel to the Middle East to become an ISIS fighter, funded other foreign fighters, posted instructions to make explosive devices and transported explosive materials. The defendant's persistent efforts to aid ISIS were defeated by the outstanding work of law enforcement officers who stopped him before he could do harm.”

The FBI and the New York Police Department were involved in the investigation.

bfrancisco@jg.net