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Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, February 16, 2018

Brooklyn Man Pleads Guilty to Attempting to Join ISIS in Yemen

Defendant Tried Repeatedly to Travel to ISIS-controlled Territory and Discussed Terror Attacks Following His Return to Brooklyn

Earlier today in federal court in Brooklyn, Mohamed Rafik Naji pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Frederic Block to one count of attempting to provide material support or resources to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a foreign terrorist organization.  

United States Attorney Richard P. Donoghue, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Edward O’Callaghan, Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney, Jr., of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and James P. O’Neill, Commissioner, New York City Police Department (NYPD), announced the guilty plea.

Mr. Donoghue extended his grateful appreciation to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), which comprises a number of federal, state and local agencies from the region. 

 As detailed in publicly filed court documents, Naji viewed and distributed ISIS propaganda before traveling from New York to Yemen in March 2015 in an effort to join ISIS.  While in Yemen, Naji repeatedly tried to travel to areas controlled by ISIS, explaining in emails with an associate in the United States that he was on his fifth attempt to reach ISIS.  Naji described traveling through militarized zones and claimed that he and his group had almost been “killed . . . by army.”  In addition, he explained that “we have trouble getting in the party” because there were “to[o] many security [g]uards all ova the place” that would “kill us if they find us.”  Naji also sent his associate videos that he made in Yemen.  In one of the videos that was attached to an email with the subject line “First day on the job,” Naji’s voice can be heard over the sound of automatic weapons saying “I think we’re taking fire.”  Naji also sent his associate ISIS propaganda videos.  In addition, in an online conversation, Naji proclaimed his allegiance to ISIS stating, “I belong to Islamic state only.” 

Following his return to the United States in September 2015, Naji continued to express his support for ISIS and violent jihad.  For example, he explained ways to travel to ISIS-controlled territory in Syria by crossing the Turkish border, and how to employ strategies to avoid arrest in Turkey.  In July 2016, following the ISIS-inspired terrorist truck attack in Nice, France, Naji discussed how easy it would be to carry out a similar attack in Times Square, explaining that ISIS “want an operation in Times Square” and stating that an ISIS “reconnaissance group . . . put up scenes of Times Square.”  Naji further explained “if there is a truck, I mean a garbage truck and one drives it there to Times Square and crushes them…Times Square day.”  He was arrested by members of the New York JTTF in the autumn of 2016.  At sentencing, Naji faces a statutory maximum term of 20 years’ imprisonment. 

The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s National Security & Cybercrime Section.  Assistant United States Attorneys Ian C. Richardson and Melody Wells were in charge of the prosecution, with assistance from Trial Attorney Brian Morgan of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

The Defendant:

MOHAMED RAFIK NAJI
Age: 38
Brooklyn, New York

E.D.N.Y. Docket No.  16-CR-653 (FB)

Topic(s): 
Counterterrorism
Contact: 
John Marzulli Tyler Daniels United States Attorney’s Office (718) 254-6323
Updated February 16, 2018