NJ Woman With Military Background Arrested for Alleged Syrian Terrorist Support

The 53-year-old hospital analyst and political activist allegedly provided money and tactical advice to the al-Nusra Front

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What to Know

  • Maria Bell, a hospital analyst from New Jersey, was arrested Wednesday for allegedly providing financial and tactical support to terrorists in Syria
  • Bell, 53, is an Army veteran who was allegedly stopped once from going to Turkey and was trying to head there again
  • An FBI search of her home Wednesday turned up a significant cache of guns

FBI agents arrested a New Jersey woman early Wednesday on federal charges of providing material support to the al-Nusra Front, a terrorist group described as al-Qaeda in Syria.

Maria Bell, 53, of Hopatcong, is charged with providing material support to the al-Nusra Front, also known as the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which operates in northwest Syria. A search of her home Wednesday morning turned up a significant cache of weapons.

Bell served in the U.S. Army National Guard and on active duty in the Army for a total of 14 months from late 1984 to early 1986.  She received an “other than honorable discharge" in lieu of a court martial, according to court papers.

Between 2017 and 2018 she allegedly used encrypted applications to communicate with one HTS member with whom she had an online relationship. She allegedly gave advice on the purchase of weapons and ammunition, planned to meet him in Turkey, and sent him money.

Bell -- who was previously stopped by the FBI from traveling to Turkey -- was planning to fly to Egypt on Wednesday and then on to Istanbul, according to an FBI affidavit filed Tuesday.

She appeared via videoconference in federal court in Newark Wednesday afternoon, and was ordered detained without bail. Not date has been set for a future hearing. Bell's attorney declined to comment.

"Have no doubt, we believe she was a threat to New Jersey and certainly our country," said New Jersey Homeland Security Director Jared Maples.

"No matter what anyone looks like, no matter what religion they practice, that's not what factors into this. The behaviors factor into this and I think this case is one of the clearest examples of that," Maples said. "You don't get to pick who you dislike, that they dislike. They all hate us. They hate our way of life. They certainly are espousing ideologies to attack Americans and certainly something that we are on point and worried about."

Bell's employer, Atlantic Health System, where she worked as an analyst, said she has been suspended. She was also chair of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's northern New Jersey branch. The party, in a statement, said its board removed her from her position and cancelled her membership, and it condemned violence as well.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said the single charge of concealment of terrorist financing to a designated foreign terrorist organization carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

The new head of the New Jersey FBI office says the threat of a lone attacker inspired by terror groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda still remains, but says race-based domestic terror is a fast-growing problem.
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