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Queens Man Intent on Joining ISIS, Bounces Around US Before Arrest: Feds

By Sybile Penhirin | September 17, 2015 5:29pm
 Ali Saleh, 22, was arrested on September 17, 2015 at his home in Queens, officials said.
Ali Saleh, 22, was arrested on September 17, 2015 at his home in Queens, officials said.
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QUEENS — A young man from Queens was arrested Thursday after he shared his plan to join ISIS on Twitter and then repeatedly tried to fly to the Middle East, Brooklyn federal authorities said. 

Ali Saleh, a 22-year-old man from Jamaica, was charged with trying to provide material support for a foreign terrorist organization after posted multiple Twitter messages saying he was "ready to die" for the terror group.

“Saleh was relentless in his attempts to travel to the Middle East to join a terrorist organization,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly Currie. “We will continue to track down and prosecute individuals like Saleh before they are able to harm the United States and its allies.”

In 2013, Saleh, who has family in Yemen, expressed his intent to join ISIS via several Twitter accounts including @alisaleh1292 and @_Hijras, according to the criminal complaint.

All the twitter accounts Saleh used are now suspended.

Saleh also tried several times to travel to the Middle East to join ISIS fighters, officials said.

In August 2014, he tweeted that he was "ready to die" for ISIS and that "prison [was] nothing", according to the criminal complaint. A  few days later, he bought a JFK to Istanbul flight ticket, according to court documents.

His plan was to join the ISIS forces in Syria, crossing the border between Syria and Turkey on foot, he later told investigators.

But Saleh never boarded the plane because his parents had taken away his passport, according to court documents.  

A year later, in July 2015, he made another flight reservation to travel from JFK to Cairo. On the same day, Saleh used one of his Twitter accounts to communicate with an ISIS facilitator who instructed followers to contact him to join the group.

Saleh was intercepted at the terminal by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and law enforcement agents, according to the criminal complaint.

He told officials he was headed to the Middle East for vacation and left the airport after the interview, according to court documents.

Over the next two days, Saleh continued his attempts to travel to the Middle East by visiting Newark Liberty International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport where he was denied boarding and was again interviewed by law enforcement agents, prosecutors said. 

He then traveled to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he had been living with two co-workers since December 2014. Law enforcement personnel interviewed him there, too. 

In August 2015, Saleh made his way to an Amtrak station in Cleveland to take a train to Toronto, Canada, and travel to Yemen from there.

But law enforcement officials showed up at the station and interviewed him again. He admitted he had been speaking with several people connected to ISIS whom he had met on Twitter.

He also told authorities that he thought the best place to support his ideology was with ISIS. 

After the interview, Saleh changed his mind and took a train to New York, officials said. 

It's unclear what he did between the day he arrived in New York in August and his arrest on Thursday.

Saleh told law enforcement agents that if he had not been arrested, he would have continued to attempt to travel to the Middle East, officials said. 

Attorney Susan G. Kellman who is representing Saleh, did not immediately return a request for comment.