A radical Islamic cleric has been extradited to New York City on charges he recruited followers and fighters for the Islamic State through fiery online lectures and militant propaganda, prosecutors said Friday.
Abdullah al-Faisal, who had been behind bars in Jamaica, pleaded not guilty in Manhattan state court to charges including conspiracy and supporting terrorism.
The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said al-Faisal’s arrest dealt a “major blow to ISIS’ overall recruitment capabilities.”
“In addition to shutting down Faisal’s dangerous rhetoric and his recruitment of new terrorists, the effects of his arrest have been felt across the counterterrorism community worldwide,” Vance said in a statement.
Messages were sent to al-Faisal’s defense attorney seeking comment.
Prosecutors portrayed al-Faisal as one of the most influential English speaking terrorists in the world. The 56-year-old al-Faisal, also known as Shaikh Faisal, has been compared to the American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a leader of al-Qaida in Yemen who was killed in 2011.
Federal officials say al-Faisal’s sermons influenced Faisal Shahzad, the attempted Times Square bomber in New York City in 2010, and Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called “Underwear Bomber” who attempted to blow up a transatlantic flight on Christmas Day 2009.
After traveling the globe supporting various terrorist causes, al-Faisal headquartered in Jamaica and continued to preach, using the internet to spread his message as the Islamic State group emerged in Syria in 2014, authorities said. He’s accused of raising funds for recruits to travel to the Middle East and providing other support like performing marriage ceremonies for them.
Prosecutors said al-Faisal called for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate and helped hide those seeking to join ISIS or travel to its territories. The Treasury Department in 2017 sanctioned him as a “specially designated global terrorist.”
The case, filed in 2017, is unusual because it did not involve the participation of federal authorities, who normally bring charges against international terrorists. The international sting that led to the arrest of al-Faisal in Jamaica was pulled off by the New York Police Department without the FBI, and without the target ever setting foot in New York.
Officers seized cellphones, laptops, thumb drives, external hard drives and cameras during the raid that Vance said had produced “actionable intelligence.”
The state court indictment said an undercover NYPD officer posing as a budding jihadist connected on social media with al-Faisal. Al-Faisal is accused of trying to recruit the officer to become a medic for the militant group.
Al-Faisal began a corresponding with the undercover police officer in November 2016, court papers said. He offered to help him join the Islamic State group, telling him, “I can link u with someone there.”
The indictment said the cleric introduced the officer to a facilitator based in the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, who exchanged phone messages with the officer earlier this year.
The NYPD’s Intelligence Division dispatched a team of investigators to the region in the late stages of the yearlong probe. The police department said it got U.S. Department of Justice clearance to extend its investigation overseas.