A Maryland man was arrested recently and charged this week with attempting to provide material support to the terror group ISIS.
Mohamed Elshinawy, 30, was arrested after allegedly lying to authorities about money he received from overseas.
The Edgewood resident received thousands of dollars from an individual overseas, for what he believed, officials say, to be for the purpose of conducting an attack on U.S. sol.
After becoming aware of the money, the FBI interviewed Elshinawy. He first claimed that his mother sent him the money, then that the money was to purchase an iPhone for a friend. Later, he admitted that a childhood friend had contacted him a few months prior on social media to connect him with a member of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh.
The operative instructed the man to use the money for “operational purposes,” which Elshinawy understood to mean conducting a terrorist attack. But Elshinawy claimed that he never intended to use the $4,000–received through Western Union and Paypal–and was only trying to get money from the group.
Elshinawy insisted in a second interview that he had received no other money from ISIL–but the FBI later found that he had actually received at least $3,500 more through Paypal.
The investigation found that Elshinawy used social media, multiple email accounts, and “pay as you go” phones to communicate with people associated with ISIS. The social media communications contained “jihadist rhetoric found in ISIL- and other terrorist-related propaganda.”
At one point, he pledged allegiance to ISIL in Arabic and asked his childhood friend to deliver his message of loyalty. He said he was a soldier of the state, a common reference to ISIL. In intercepted communication to his brother, Elshinawy said he planned to die as a martyr for the Islamic State.
After the FBI interviews, Elshinawy tried to conceal some of his communications.
“Mohamed Elshinawy received money he believed was provided by ISIL in order to conduct an attack on U.S. soil,” said Assistant Attorney General John Carlin in a statement.
“When confronted by the FBI, he lied in order to conceal his support for ISIL and the steps he took to provide material support to the deadly foreign terrorist organization. He will now be held accountable for these crimes. The National Security Division’s highest priority is counterterrorism and we will continue to pursue and disrupt those who seek to provide material support to ISIL.”
“This case demonstrates how terrorists exploit modern technology to inculcate sympathizers and build hidden networks,” added U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein.
Elshinawy faces up to 31 years in prison.
Michael Greenberger, director of the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security, told the Baltimore Sun that the charges represent another example of ISIL’s reach from its bases in the Middle East and the group’s hope to cause mayhem in the United States.
“It appears they have enough money to be able to set out a lot of lures, hoping that one lure will catch somebody who’s willing to engage in dangerous activity,” Greenberger said.
Seamus Hughes, who studies ISIL at George Washington University, noted that the allegations highlight how personal connections–in this case a childhood friend–can lead someone to extremism.
“Real-world relationships matter,” said Hughes, a former counterterrorism official. “You’re more likely to be engaged in this ideology if your friends, or your brother, or your sister are also interested.”