A Bronx man was arrested early Tuesday after he allegedly tried to join ISIS and later helped an undercover informant who he thought was trying to join the terrorist organization, according to a criminal complaint.
Sajmir Alimehmeti, 22, was arrested in the Bronx by the Joint Terrorism Task Force and is charged with providing material support to a terrorist organization, according to a complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"Alimehmeti is charged today with actions that show a clear intention to support a terrorist organization that is hell-bent on murder and mayhem," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
According to the complaint, he tried to travel to the Middle East to join ISIS on two occassions in 2014 but was blocked each time by British authorities. Then, this year, he allegedly tried to help an undercover informant who claimed to be attempting to join the organization.
The complaint alleges that Alimehmeti first traveled to the United Kingdom in October of 2014 in an attempt to continue on to the Middle East but was denied entry to the country when British authorities at Manchester Airport found nunchucks and camouflage clothing in his luggage.
He tried again that December, according to the complaint, and was again stopped in the United Kingdom after British authorities at Heathrow Airport in London found images of ISIS and improvised explosive devices on his cellphone.
"As alleged, Alimehmeti continued his quest to support ISIL’s deadly terrorist agenda, after being denied entry into Europe with a bag full of military gear," said NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. "When he returned home, to the Bronx, he allegedly turned to helping others join the terrorist organization as he built his own arsenal of weapons."
Alerted by UK authorities, the FBI went to work, introducing Alimehmeti to undercover law enforcement informants who posed as ISIS recruits interested in traveling to Syria, according to court papers.
A year after the second attempt, Alimehmeti tried to get a new passport and claimed he had lost his old one, according to the complaint. But he allegedly told undercover agents that he already had $2,500 to travel to Syria but needed to get a new passport in a different name because his had rejection stamps from the United Kingdom and was "already in the system."
Late last year and earlier this year, Alimehmeti began communicating with undercover agents, according to the complaint. When meeting with the agents, the man allegedly expressed interest in joining ISIS, telling one who he thought was set to head overseas, "I'm ready f---ing go with you, man...You know I would... I'm done with this place."
He then bought that informant a phone to be used overseas and allegedly talked about "apps" that would encrypt his communications. He also bought two informants boots to use while fighting with ISIS at a sporting-goods store in Manhattan. The complaint also alleges that Alimehmeti also took one of the agents to John F. Kennedy Airport so the agent could fly to join ISIS.
According to the complaint, Alimehmeti played two ISIS-produced music videos that depicted prisoners being beheaded for the undercover agents. He allegedly told the agents that the videos helped him stay motivated while exercising.
Photos from the complaint show him posing in his Bronx apartment with what appears to be an ISIS flag. He also allegedly bought knives, steel-knuckled gloves, a pocket chainsaw, handcuffs and masks, and had MP3 files containing lectures by former al-Qaida official Anwar al-Awlaki.
The court papers said Alimehmeti told the undercover contacts he and his brother "had our own plan" to travel from Albania to Syria but that his brother had been arrested in Albania.
In a footnote, the FBI said in court papers that Alimehmeti's brother was arrested on weapons and assault charges in Albania last August.
At his initial court appearance Tuesday, Alimehmeti, who's also facing fraud-related charges, remained silent and stared at his feet as his team of public defense lawyers asked the judge to set bail at $200,000.
Defense lawyers Sylvie Levine and Sabrina Shroff insisted that Alimehmeti wasn't being charged for criminal action, but instead "conversation that was consistently prompted by undercover law enforcement."
But prosecutor Brendan Quigley said Alimehmeti's "repeated support for ISIS shows that he's both a flight risk and a risk to the safety of the public."
He also pointed to Alimehmeti's past arrests dating back to 2010, including robbery, assault, forcible touching and public lewdness. Alimehmeti has served probation and a year in jail for the crimes.
The judge, Gabriel Gorenstein, acknowledged the defense attorneys' claims that Alimehmeti was being charged without ever acting on his intentions, but said that “those aren’t the charges,” and that his willingness to join and support a known terror organization was enough to keep him locked away.
Alimehmeti is scheduled to appear again in court on June 7.
More than a half dozen individuals have been arrested since mid-2015 by the task force in New York and New Jersey on similar charges.
The investigation was conducted by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, comprised largely of FBI agents and NYPD detectives, and the NYPD's Intelligence Division.