Feds: Couple Tried to Travel by Ship to Join ISIS

April 5, 2021 Updated: April 5, 2021

NEW YORK—A newlywed husband and wife who expressed interest in fighting for the ISIS terrorist group were arrested Thursday at a port near New York City as they attempted to board a cargo ship that an undercover law enforcement officer said would take them to Yemen, prosecutors said.

James Bradley, 20, and Arwa Muthana, 29, were taken into custody on the gangplank at Port Newark–Elizabeth Marine Terminal in New Jersey, prosecutors said. They were charged in federal court in Manhattan with attempting and conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

Bradley and Muthana made an initial court appearance Thursday and were ordered jailed without bail. Messages seeking comment were left with their lawyers.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement that the couple’s “plans to wage attacks against the United States have been thwarted.”

Bradley, of the Bronx, expressed support for ISIS and spoke of his desire to join the group overseas in recorded conversations over the course of nearly a year with an undercover enforcement officer, prosecutors said. Bradley also spoke to the undercover officer who led him to the ship about potentially attacking the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, prosecutors said.

A complaint outlining the charges against Bradley and Muthana does not mention the defendants discussing their intentions with ISIS or others beyond the two undercover law enforcement officers.

Bradley sought transit to the Middle East by cargo ship because he feared he might have been on a terrorist watch list, prosecutors said.

In 2019, Bradley planned to travel to Afghanistan to join the Taliban and attack American soldiers but changed his mind because of ideological differences with the person he was supposed to travel with, a person who was subsequently arrested, prosecutors said, citing an FBI interview at the time.

Muthana, of Alabama, also expressed support for ISIS and discussed with Bradley plans to travel together to the Middle East to fight on behalf of the group, prosecutors said. After her arrest, she waived her right to remain silent and said she was willing to fight and kill Americans, prosecutors said.

A U.S.-led coalition captured the last of the territory held by ISIS about two years ago, ending its self-declared caliphate that covered large parts of Iraq and Syria. Since then, remaining ISIS  extremists have gone underground in the Syrian-Iraqi border region, continuing an insurgency.

Muthana and Bradley were married in January.

After traveling to Alabama to visit Muthana, prosecutors said, Bradley approached the undercover officer with the idea of traveling on a cargo ship to join ISIS. The officer connected Bradley with a “facilitator”—another undercover officer—and Bradley paid that person $1,000 in cash for travel costs, prosecutors said.

Bradley told that officer that he and Muthana planned to be “fighting” upon arrival Yemen and that he’d had a dream that he had given an oath of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, prosecutors said.