Earlier today, at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, Ali Saleh, a U.S. citizen from Queens, New York, was sentenced by United States District Judge William F. Kuntz, II, to 30 years’ imprisonment for attempting to provide material support and resources to the designated foreign terrorist organization the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Saleh pleaded guilty to the charge in July 2018.
Saleh was also sentenced to 100 months’ imprisonment for assaulting a federal correctional officer and possessing contraband at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York (the “MDC”) to run consecutive to the terrorism sentence. Saleh pleaded guilty to the charge in June 2019.
Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Matthew G. Olsen, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s National Security Division, and Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), announced the sentence.
“Today’s sentence demonstrates the strong commitment of this Office and its law enforcement partners to rooting out and prosecuting dangerous jihadists like Saleh and stopping their efforts to support terrorist attacks at home or abroad,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “Saleh is also held accountable for his vicious and premeditated attack on a federal correctional officer while in pre-trial detention.”
“Saleh made numerous attempts to travel overseas to join ISIS, and when those efforts failed, attempted to assist others in joining the terrorist organization,” stated AAG Olsen. “Once arrested and detained, he attacked a correctional officer with an improvised weapon. With the sentences handed down today, he is being held accountable for these crimes. The National Security Division is committed to identifying and holding accountable those who seek to provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations and we will be unyielding in our efforts to bring to justice those who commit violence against the men and women in law enforcement and corrections. I want to thank the agents, analysts and prosecutors who are responsible for this case.”
“Ali Saleh’s attempts to support ISIS, and his subsequent attack on a federal correctional officer, resulted in the penalties enforced upon him today. The FBI’s JTTF here in New York, along with our partners, continues to lead the way in preventing and intercepting threats posed by those like Saleh, who seek to harm our citizens at home and overseas,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Driscoll.
Attempting to Provide Material Support to ISIS
Starting in 2013 and thereafter, Saleh swore an oath of allegiance to ISIS and embraced ISIS’s directive to either travel to the Middle East to fight for ISIS or take action at home in support of ISIS. On August 25, 2014, Saleh stated online, “I’m ready to die for the Caliphate, prison is nothing.” On August 28, 2014, Saleh stated online, “Lets be clear the Muslims in the khilafah [caliphate] need help, the one who is capable to go over and help the Muslims must go and help.” That same day, Saleh made an airline reservation to travel from New York to Turkey, a country bordering Syria. Saleh was ultimately prevented from traveling because his parents took away his passport.
Saleh then redirected his efforts to facilitating others’ support of ISIS. In October 2014, Saleh communicated with an ISIS supporter in Mali through an online messaging platform and sent a wire transfer in the amount of $500 to fund that person’s travel to Syria. Around the same time period, Saleh communicated with several other individuals in an effort to facilitate their support of ISIS, including known ISIS supporters in the United Kingdom and Australia.
In July 2015, Saleh purchased 48 pyrotechnic mortars (large, tube-fired fireworks described as “artillery shells” on the packaging and containing explosive powder), stored them in a hidden area in the trunk of his car, and drove towards New York City. Law enforcement agents discovered on the cell phone that Saleh used at this time detailed instructions regarding how to create a bomb, including a hand thrown improvised explosive device, a pipe bomb, and a pressure cooker bomb, using explosive powder from fireworks. Saleh’s fireworks were sufficient to create multiple hand thrown IEDs or a pressure cooker bomb. As Saleh drove toward New York City with the explosive materials in his trunk, his car broke down, and he was forced to have it towed. Saleh later abandoned the car.
Saleh then made five separate attempts, over 10 days, to travel to the Middle East to fight for ISIS. On July 24, 2015, Saleh contacted an ISIS travel facilitator in Libya and made a same-day one-way booking to travel from New York to Cairo, Egypt. Notably, Egypt and Libya are bordering countries and it was relatively easy and common at that time for individuals to travel from Egypt to Libya to join ISIS. Saleh went to JFK and attempted to pay for the flight at the airline ticket counter, but he was informed by airline personnel that a message had come up on the screen and he left the ticket line. Saleh subsequently visited international airports in Newark, Philadelphia and Indianapolis, but continued to encounter travel restrictions. Saleh attempted to circumvent air travel restrictions by taking a train from Cleveland to Toronto, Canada, to fly to the Middle East from Canada. After law enforcement intervention, however, Saleh did not board the train and instead returned to New York.
After his encounters with law enforcement, Saleh changed his online social media moniker and expressed his support for ISIS under new usernames. On August 24, 2015, Saleh stated online, “I am a terrorist.” On September 1, 2015, Saleh stated online, “If they aren’t implementing shariah [Islamic law] grab ur gun and implement shariah and see how fast the world turns against u.”
In September 2015, Saleh was arrested at his home on charges of attempting to provide material support to ISIS. During a search of the home, agents recovered paper copies of an itinerary and Turkish visa issued in Saleh’s name for his September 2014 attempt to travel, and a duffel bag containing flashlights, headlamps, and other survival gear. Agents also recovered a black trunk containing 29 machetes. Saleh was subsequently detained at the MDC.
Assault on a Federal Correctional Officer
During his detention at the MDC, Saleh has assaulted numerous federal correctional officers and staff members, crafted weapons from materials in prison, broken cell windows and light fixtures, damaged property, initiated false emergency alarms, and set fires. In total, he has been cited on more than 90 separate occasions for disciplinary infractions at the MDC.
On July 13, 2018, at approximately 12:35 p.m., while a senior correctional officer was retrieving trash through an access slot of Saleh’s cell, Saleh reached through the slot and slashed the officer with an improvised knife, lacerating the officer’s right forearm and damaging the officer’s radial nerve. Saleh smiled at the officer and said, “I hope you die.” The correctional officer subsequently underwent surgery for his wound.
The government’s cases are being handled by the Office’s National Security & Cybercrime Section. Assistant United States Attorneys Saritha Komatireddy, Margaret E. Lee and Alexander F. Mindlin are in charge of the terrorism prosecution, with assistance provided by Trial Attorney Stephanie Sweeten of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section. Assistant United States Attorney Douglas M. Pravda is in charge of the assault and contraband prosecution.
Queens, New York
E.D.N.Y. Docket Nos. 15-CR-517, 18-CR-468 (WFK)