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Press Release

United States Citizen Sentenced To 35 Years In Prison For Providing Material Support To Al Shabaab

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York
Maalik Jones Trained and Fought with the Terrorist Organization’s Specialized Fighting Force, Jaysh Ayman

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, announced that MAALIK ALIM JONES was sentenced today to 35 years in prison for conspiring to provide material support to al Shabaab, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization based in Somalia, conspiring to receive military training from al Shabaab, and carrying and using an AK-47 machinegun, rocket-propelled grenades, and other destructive devices in furtherance of his support for al Shabaab.  In 2011, JONES, a United States citizen, traveled to Somalia, where he took up arms and provided military support to al Shabaab for approximately four years.  On September 8, 2017, JONES pled guilty to a three-count Superseding Information.  U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe imposed JONES’s sentence in Manhattan federal court. 

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “We may never know what drove Maalik Jones to travel to Somalia and pledge allegiance to al Shabaab, a terrorist organization that has vowed to destroy America.  But we do know that with today’s sentence, Jones is no longer a threat to America’s ideals.”

Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers said:  “U.S. citizens who travel overseas to fight with a terrorist organization – which is what Jones did – betray our country and pose a serious threat to our national security.  The National Security Division remains committed to committed to identifying and stopping terrorists like Jones, and we will hold them accountable.  Credit goes to all those who worked so tirelessly to bring Jones to justice.”

According to the Complaint, the Indictment, the Superseding Information, and statements made in court proceedings, including at sentencing:

In February 2008, the U.S. Department of State designated al Shabaab as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.  Al Shabaab has used violent means – including targeted assassinations of civilians and journalists, and the use of improvised explosive devices, rockets, mortars, and automatic weapons – to, among other things, destabilize the government of Somalia, quell the Somali population, and force the withdrawal of foreign troops in Somalia.  A former leader of al Shabaab, whose exhortations were echoed by the leadership of al Qaeda, called for foreign fighters to join al Shabaab in a “holy war” in Somalia.  As a result of al Shabaab’s recruitment efforts, men from other countries – including the U.S. – have traveled to Somalia to engage in violent jihad. 

Since al Shabaab’s designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in February 2008, it has made several public statements demonstrating its intent to harm U.S. interests.  For example, in April 2008, al Shabaab released a statement declaring a campaign against the U.S.  Similarly, after an al Shabaab member was killed in May 2008, al Shabaab leaders announced that the mujahidin would “hunt the U.S. government” and that governments supporting the U.S. and Ethiopia should keep their citizens out of Somalia.  In April 2009, al Shabaab claimed responsibility for mortar attacks against a U.S. congressman who had been visiting Somalia, and in February 2012, the then-Emir of al Shabaab swore allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Emir of al Qaeda, stating that al Shabaab “will hereby merge into al Qa’ida.”

Al Shabaab also maintains a specialized fighting force, known as Jaysh Ayman, that is responsible for carrying out commando-style attacks and cross-border raids in which fighters, among other things, travel across the land border between Somalia and Kenya to target individuals and conduct attacks against civilian and military targets in Kenya.  Among the attacks executed by Jaysh Ayman fighters are: (i) a June 16, 2014, attack in which al Shabaab fighters opened fire in a hotel bar in Mpekatoni, Kenya, killing approximately 40 people; (ii) a July 2014 attack in Hindi, Kenya, in which approximately 12 al Shabaab fighters opened fire at a trading center and set fire to government buildings and a church, killing nine people; and (iii) a June 14, 2015, attack in which al Shabaab fighters ambushed a Kenyan Defense Force base in Lamu County, Kenya, using various weapons, including AK-47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, killing two Kenyan Defense Force soldiers (the “Lamu Attack”).

In July 2011, JONES left Baltimore, Maryland, to join al Shabaab in Somalia.  JONES traveled to New York City, then flew via commercial aircraft to Kenya, with stopovers in Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.  After arriving in Kenya, JONES traveled by land from Kenya to Somalia, which is a common travel route for foreign fighters traveling to Somalia to join al Shabaab.

In Somalia, JONES joined al Shabaab and was a member of the terrorist organization for approximately four years.  During this time, JONES trained, worked, and fought with al Shabaab in Somalia.  Among other things, JONES received three months of military training at an al Shabaab training camp, where he learned, among other things, how to operate an AK-47 assault rifle and rocket-propelled grenades.  Upon completion of this training, JONES also was assigned to al Shabaab’s specialized fighting force, Jaysh Ayman, and participated in combat against soldiers of the Kenyan government on behalf of al Shabaab. 

In particular, after joining Jaysh Ayman, JONES and his Jaysh Ayman unit participated in a battle in Afmadow, Somalia, against Kenyan government soldiers.  JONES, armed with an AK-47 rifle, engaged in the fighting until he was injured by a missile and then hospitalized.  After his release from the hospital, JONES continued to operate with al Shabaab and, in particular, Jaysh Ayman.

JONES has appeared with other al Shabaab fighters in videos that were recovered from an al Shabaab fighter who participated in and was killed during the aforementioned Lamu Attack.  In one of the videos, JONES can be seen holding a firearm, and in the company of several al Shabaab fighters.  The al Shabaab fighters are depicted greeting each other, hugging each other, and carrying firearms.

On December 7, 2015, JONES was taken into custody by Somali authorities while he was attempting to procure a boat to depart Somalia for Yemen. 

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In addition to the prison term, JONES, 33, of Baltimore, Maryland, was sentenced to five years of supervised release. 

Mr. Berman and Mr. Demers praised the investigative work of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force – which principally consists of agents from the FBI and detectives from the New York City Police Department.  He also thanked the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Security Division and Office of International Affairs, and the U.S. Department of State, for their assistance. 

This case is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Andrew J. DeFilippis and Shawn G. Crowley, and Trial Attorney Raj Parekh of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section, are in charge of the prosecution.

Updated May 29, 2018

Press Release Number: 18-177