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June 18, 2015 12:38 pm

Would-Be Islamic State Terrorist Charged in New York

avatar by Steven Emerson

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Stephen Sotloff with ISIS captor. Photo: screengrab

Steven Sotloff with ISIS captor. Photo: screengrab.

A 20-year-old Queens, New York, man is charged with planning an attack in the name of the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS). Munther Omar Saleh was arrested last week, along with two others after charging a police cruiser. One of his co-conspirators had a knife in the waistband of his pants.

Investigators believe Saleh was trying to make a bomb to detonate somewhere in New York in ISIS’ name. When the FBI had a confidential source pose as a radical Islamist and reach out to him, Saleh wrote that he was “in NY and trying to do an Op.” He quickly cut off contact with the FBI source, saying he was ordered by ISIS to do so.

Saleh first appeared on law enforcement radar in March after a Port Authority officer saw him walking across the George Washington Bridge with a lantern. Saleh asked the officer for a ride across the bridge; the officer refused and directed him toward a bus depot on the New Jersey side of the bridge. The same officer saw Saleh on the bridge the next day. The officer escorted Saleh to the New Jersey Port Authority office, where he was questioned and denied any familiarity with ISIS.

Searches of Saleh’s computer and Twitter feed revealed his violent jihadist ideology. “i fear AQ [al-Qaida] could be getting too moderate,” he wrote in a September post. A few months later, he tweeted, “IS is known for their high end videos, great weaponry, and quality fighters” and “Khalifah [caliphate] offers us to live under the laws Allah prescribed for us, if we fear him we would rush to the land to be governed by it.” He also expressed support via Twitter for the Charlie Hebdo attack, the shooting at a contest of cartoons depicting Islam’s prophet Muhammad in Garland, Texas, and the beheading of ISIS captives.

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In January, three months after his tweet lamenting al-Qaeda’s more “moderate” direction, Saleh enrolled in an electrical circuitry course at an aeronautics college. In the months leading up to his arrest, he searched online for vacuums, lamps, hoses, a saw, watches, and pressure-cookers (among other things), all of which could be used to make a pressure-cooker bomb similar to those used in the Boston Marathon bombing.

In May, Saleh researched various tourist sites and landmarks in New York and their security surveillance. He also read articles including, “What Does Islam Say About Killing an Innocent Person?”, “Islam: The True Religion of God Almighty”, and “Does Islam really allow the killing of innocent unbelievers?”

Other searches involved firearms, hunting gear and supplies, bullet-proof vest, chemical masks, and disguises. Police arrested Salah after he seemed to realize he was under surveillance. An affidavit accompanying the complaint describes a series of attempted evasive actions by Saleh and two others with him, including leaving their Jeep at red light and taking several steps toward a police car nearby.

Less than two weeks earlier, Boston Police and the FBI shot and killed terror suspect Usaama Rahim after he refused to put down a military-style knife. Law enforcement officials say they heard conversations in which Rahim said he planned to attack police officers.

Steven Emerson is the Executive Director the Investigative Project on Terrorism (www.investigativeproject.org) where this article first appeared.

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