In the midst of pettiness and petulance of American politics, the attacks in Belgium this morning remind us once again of the challenges the world faces, challenges that require serious and sober leadership, rather than entertainment. As I have said in the past, though the military and intelligence components may be the most prominent of all components in the war against terrorism, the law enforcement and prosecutorial communities also have a vital role. That is particularly true with respect to early detection and prevention. With that in mind, I continue my research on the existing statutes criminalizing material support for terrorism, and their relationship to American treason. There are a couple of variations on this subject matter that are drawing my interest at the moment: one relates to who can be an “enemy” for purposes of the Treason Clause; a second relates to the recruitment of, and actions taken by, juveniles with respect to terrorism.
In conducting my research lately I was struck by something: in a span of three days (from March 16 to March 18), the Justice Department announced major action in no fewer than five terrorism cases. On Friday the 18th, Joseph Hassan Farrokh of Virginia pleaded guilty to a material support conspiracy that involved travel to Syria to fight for ISIL. On Thursday, Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab of California was indicted for attempting to provide material support overseas, based on allegations that he communicated on social media that he traveled to Syria to fight alongside terror organizations. Also on Thursday, Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem of Arizona was convicted of various federal crimes, including conspiring to provide material support to ISIL, based on his helping to plan with two other men the May 2015 attack on a “Muhammed Art Exhibit” in Garland, Texas. Also on Thursday, Mufid Elfgeeh of New York received a 270 month sentence for recruiting two men to join and fight for ISIL (the two men turned out to be FBI cooperators). And on Wednesday, Amir Said Rahman Al-Ghazi (aka Robert McCollum) of Ohio pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support by trying to persuade others to join ISIL and by expressing his desire to launch a domestic attack.
From what I can tell based on the DOJ’s press releases, this was the busiest single period of such announcements since December 2015, in which, during a period of 9 days, the DOJ announced major action in 10 cases (six of them were within 4 days of one another between December 14 and 17).
Now, a caveat is in order. These are only the press releases from Main Justice. I have not yet scoured the press releases from every United States Attorney’s Office. And there can be a lot of different reasons for the timing of these various actions that have nothing to do with one another. And, of course, these press releases surely do not reflect all of the work in every terrorism prosecution – the public will not see much of the work currently happening in these investigations and prosecutions. But the Main Justice news section is at least a reliable source for major developments in terrorism cases – indictments, convictions, guilty pleas, and sentencing. And last week, based on the objective factors I have examined, was a busy week for news of such developments.
It should be reassuring to Americans, after Belgium especially, to see specific examples of the federal law enforcement effort with respect to detecting potential domestic attacks and preventing and punishing foreign fighter travel. Clearly, though, this work is far from over.