Preacher Accused of Being ISIS Marriage Broker Faces Trial in New York
In late 2016, Abdullah el-Faisal, a Jamaican preacher who was an outspoken supporter of the Islamic State, began communicating on WhatsApp with a woman in New York who claimed to be an aspiring jihadist with medical training.
He offered to help her join the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, prosecutors in Manhattan said, and made an introduction to a member of the group, which is known for carrying out brutal executions, including drownings and beheadings in the Middle East. Mr. Faisal described the man as someone who not only would help her travel to join extremist fighters — but who would be a suitable husband.
Mr. Faisal also sounded a note of caution, counseling care in discussing ISIS by telephone, writing: “many pple got arrested just from text messages.”
Now those messages form the basis of a criminal case against Mr. Faisal in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. The woman was not a would-be jihadist but an undercover officer with the New York Police Department, one of several who posed as women who wanted his help to become ISIS brides.
Mr. Faisal, who was arrested in Jamaica in 2017 and later extradited to the United States, is facing five charges, including conspiracy and supporting ISIS terrorism, which carry potential sentences ranging from seven to 25 years in prison. He stands accused of recruiting people to pledge allegiance to the group and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to travel to join the group and to carry out acts of terrorism, such as murder, against “nonbelievers.”
“This trial unfolding in a New York State courtroom is about the far-reaching crimes of terrorism committed by the defendant,” Gary Galperin, a prosecutor with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, said during an opening statement Monday, calling Mr. Faisal “one of the most influential English-speaking terrorists of our time.”
One of Mr. Faisal’s lawyers, Alex Grosshtern, urged jurors to judge his client by his deeds, not statements or beliefs they might find distasteful. He said that the evidence “will not show that there was a recruitment of a female to go to Syria and assist ISIS in engaging in any specific act of terrorism.”
Mr. Faisal has preached violence for decades and has been seen by western intelligence agencies as a radicalizing figure. Born Trevor William Forrest in Jamaica, Mr. Faisal took his Muslim name after converting to Islam as a teenager. In the mid-1990s, he began living in Britain, where he sold recordings of his speeches in bookstores.
“The way forward can never be the ballot,” he said in one, according to a court filing. “The way forward is the bullet.” In that same speech Mr. Faisal told listeners that assassination is lawful and, using a derogatory name for nonbelievers, said: “You should cut the throats of the kafirs with machetes.”
In 2003 he was convicted in Britain of inciting racial hatred and soliciting murder after encouraging the killing of Hindus, Jews and Americans. He served four years in prison and then began living in Kenya. The government there deported Mr. Faisal to Jamaica in 2010.
From the Caribbean island, he began using a website to reach a global audience. During a lecture in 2016 he stated that under Islamic law “you have to kill all the homosexuals.” The next year, he proclaimed that “infidels” were poisoning holy water from Mecca to give Muslims cancer.
Some who fell under Mr. Faisal’s sway carried out or planned terror attacks. He was close to one of the suicide bombers who in 2005 detonated explosives on three subway trains and a bus in London that killed 52 people. Najibullah Zazi, one of three young men who plotted to set off explosives in the New York City subway system, adopted extremist views, which he later renounced, while listening to recorded lectures by Mr. Faisal and Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki, according to federal prosecutors.
The New York case began in early 2016 after the FBI and the Police Department learned that Mr. Faisal’s stepson, Hannibal Koyaki, wanted to “make Hijrah” — a journey to join ISIS, prosecutors said. Mr. Koyaki pleaded guilty last year to lying to the F.B.I. about his desire to aid ISIS and was sentenced to two years of probation.
In 2016, an undercover officer got in touch with Mr. Faisal, using the name Rojin and pretending to be a woman who wanted to join ISIS and marry someone with the same beliefs, prosecutors wrote in a court filing. Mr. Faisal made an introduction to his stepson, who for months carried on a courtship that included near-daily exchanges and three in-person meetings.
When a Skype call between the two had been arranged, a female officer took over the role of Rojin from a male officer. In late 2016, an officer posing as Rojin told Mr. Faisal that she had gotten tired of waiting for Mr. Koyaki and was headed to Raqqa on her own to join ISIS, which some also refer to as Dawla — a word that can mean state or dynasty in Arabic. According to prosecutors, he replied: “I can find you a hubby in dawla when u get there.”
That officer replied that she could find a husband without his help but introduced Mr. Faisal to a second undercover officer who used the name Mavish, calling her a “Pakistani sister” who had studied to become a doctor and could perhaps be a suitable match for an Islamic State fighter.
The role of Islamic State marriage broker was familiar for Mr. Faisal, prosecutors said, calling that a form of material support to ISIS. By the time he came into contact with the officer calling herself Mavish, prosecutors said, Mr. Faisal had already tried to arrange matches between fighters and women from Britain, Sweden and the United States.
“Do u want the cell number of the brother u can marry” Mr. Faisal asked “Mavish” in a message, prosecutors wrote, adding that he then gave her the phone number of an Islamic State fighter.
That man, Luqmaan Patel, said he would help get the officer into ISIS, according to court papers, adding at one point: “We need people in the medical field.”
Prosecutors said that Mr. Patel was one of several Islamic State fighters Mr. Faisal maintained contact with, talking not only about potential marriages but battles and the handling of captives.
Messages described in a court filing by prosecutors include some from early 2015 in which Mr. Patel told Mr. Faisal that he was on his way to Iraq to train as an Islamic State soldier, writing: “The thought of facing the enemy gives me goosebumps” and adding: “We gonna conquer the world.”
About six months later, according to the messages, the two discussed fighting in Baiji, Iraq, with Mr. Patel saying it was a “rough ride” and “intense,” and talking about beheading Shia Muslims.
When Mr. Faisal asked whether ISIS had captured prisoners, Mr. Patel answered “not that I know of,” adding: “We just kill these rats.”
Mr. Faisal then replied: “It’s best u don’t take prisoners.”