SALEM, Ore. – The man has been supporting an Islamic State group from the Portland suburbs of Oregon for years by helping extremists maintain an online presence that supported attacks and sought newcomers, federal agents and prosecutors said.
Hawazen Sameer Mothafar, who was arrested in November and whose trial is scheduled to begin in January, has produced and disseminated propaganda and recruitment through social media platforms, according to a grand jury indictment.
Mothafar was not guilty of accusations of providing material support to a terrorist organization and of conspiracy to provide such support. Mark Ahlemeyer, his federal ombudsman, declined to comment.
The case underscores the importance of the presence of an online group, often referred to by experts as the “digital caliphate”, for a group that lost most of its territory in Iraq and Syria by the end of 2017, as well as its self-proclaimed caliphate. The group continues to carry out and inspire attacks.
Attempts by law enforcement to suppress the online presence of the Islamic State often resemble a blow game. A year ago, European law enforcement officials removed accounts and information related to the Amaq agency, which disseminates propaganda and news to the group. But last month, Amaq issued a statement in which the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the rampage in Vienna, which killed four people.
Mothafar, who lived in the Portland suburb of Troutdale, is accused of editing and producing material for al Anfal, a newspaper that “defends violent jihad” and receives orders from the Islamic State’s central media office, known as Diwan.
He also said that Mothafar worked on behalf of the group at least from the beginning of 2015 until his arrest in November.
Jordan Reimer, a counter-terrorism expert at Rand Corp., said the arrest did not appear to be a major blow to the group, but anyone who helped create and spread its propaganda played an important role.
“ISIS propaganda is a huge part of what they do,” said Reimer, a former intelligence analyst at the New York Police Department.
Reimer said it was rare for anyone in the United States to be as deeply and directly involved directly in the Islamic State’s online activities as Mothafar was allegedly.
Approximately 40% of the 221 people accused of crimes related to the Islamic State in the United States in November were charged with traveling or attempting to travel abroad. According to George Washington University’s extremism program, a third were accused of planning domestic terrorist attacks.
“Being part of real formal publications for ISIS or ISIS is connected, working on it formally in America is unique.” I haven’t seen that yet, “said Reimer.
Mothafar is also accused of prosecuting aid, including moderating private chat rooms, Al Dura’a al Sunni or Sunni Shield, the pro-Islamic state’s online media organization.
In 2016, he opened a Facebook account for a senior Islamic State official currently in custody in Iraq, the indictment adds, adding that Mothafar also distributed online articles describing how to kill and maim with a knife and that supported the attacks. ,
Loren “Renn” Cannon, the FBI’s special agent in charge of the Portland division, said extremist groups in all lanes were increasingly using online tools to spread their report of violence and in direct action by intimidating, hacking and harassing people.
“The digital component is incredibly important these days,” Cannon said. “I think it’s important for people to understand that extremists who advocate violence use the Internet and social media – these are today’s tools that seek ideas.”
He declined to comment on Mothafar’s case, although he described Mothafar as “a leading figure in the Islamic State’s media network” when announcing the arrest.
The trial is set to begin in Portland on January 5, but Ahlemeyer has asked the judge for a 90-day adjournment to further consider the case.
Authorities have decided not to imprison Mothafar, who has a physical disability and uses a wheelchair, as he is considered a low risk flight, mainly due to restrictions on coronavirus travel.
Conditions of his release include limited travel and the use of electronic devices.
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