A New York City man charged with trying to join the Islamic State militant group says he lived in Fort Wayne for several months last year.
Federal authorities in September accused Ali Saleh, 22, of attempting to provide material support and resources – including himself – to a foreign terrorist organization. Their evidence included his alleged Twitter postings, attempts to board flights from the United States to the Middle East and statements to law enforcement agents.
Saleh, who is from Queens, New York, told law enforcement agents in late July that he had been living with two co-workers in Fort Wayne since December 2014, according to an affidavit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The affidavit does not state where Saleh lived or worked while in Fort Wayne.
Agents said they interviewed Saleh at an unspecified Fort Wayne hotel. He told them he had been prevented in recent days from boarding flights bound from New York and Philadelphia to Qatar, according to the affidavit signed by a special agent of the FBI.
Saleh said he intended to travel to Yemen to join a militia training camp and protect Sunnis against Shia insurgents battling the Yemeni government. Saleh’s family is from Yemen, the document states.
On Aug. 2, agents interviewed Saleh at an Amtrak train station in Cleveland, where he said he was trying to travel to Toronto and then fly to Yemen. According to the court document, Saleh acknowledged he had reached out to an Islamic State facilitator, and he told law enforcement agents that "he still in his mind thinks the best place to support his ideology is with ISIL," another name for the Islamic State. Saleh ended up taking a train from Cleveland to New York City.
Court records show Saleh has been in detention since Sept. 17 and pleaded not guilty at his Nov. 2 arraignment in federal court in New York. If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The acting public information officer for the U.S. district attorney in New York declined to say Tuesday why Saleh had been living in Fort Wayne. Saleh’s New York attorney referred questions about the case to court documents, which state only that Saleh said he had been a resident of Fort Wayne.
Saleh’s public messages posted on Twitter "included tweets and retweets supportive of ISIL and expressing an intent to join ISIL," the affidavit states. Some of the tweets described in the document allegedly were posted by Saleh during the time he said he was a resident of Fort Wayne.
In one, he allegedly retweeted the message: "The best thing that happened to me is Islam. The best thing that happened to the Ummah is the Islamic State." Ummah refers to "the global community of Muslims," according to the affidavit.
A day later, Saleh allegedly retweeted the message: "IS is winning battle of hearts and minds. People have started to realize that war is a necessity." IS is an acronym for the Islamic State.
The affidavit describes Saleh’s various failed attempts to travel to the Middle East. In 2014, he missed a flight from New York to Turkey "because his parents took away his passport," the document states.
On July 24, 2015, Saleh spoke with Customs and Border Protection personnel and law enforcement officials at a New York airport, telling them he had lived in Fort Wayne for six to seven months. He said he planned to travel to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen for vacation but had not booked a return trip to the United States. He left that airport and later went to airports in New Jersey and Philadelphia but was turned away at ticket counters, according to the court document.
At the time that Saleh was charged, U.S. Attorney Kelly Currie thanked the FBI’s Indianapolis office, among other law enforcement agencies, for its assistance in the case. Saleh had traveled to Indianapolis after July 26 and then to Fort Wayne, where law enforcement agents interviewed him July 29-30, the affidavit states.