Feds: Bombing materials found on phone of man who offered new oath to ISIS

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Ashraf Al Safoo

A Chicago man had photographs of bombing materials on his phone and offered to make a new pledge of allegiance to Islamic State terrorists shortly before his arrest this month, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

The allegation was enough to convince U.S. Magistrate Judge David Weisman to order Ashraf Al Safoo, 34, held in custody at the end of an afternoon hearing. The computer engineer was charged earlier this month with using social media to help ISIS recruit operatives.

Al Safoo’s defense attorney insisted there was “no context” for the images on the phone, and the judge acknowledged that photos may appear on a person’s phone uninvited. Still, he pointed to the allegations already leveled against Al Safoo.

“It seems strange coincidence that those images happened there by happenstance,” Weisman said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Didwania said Al Safoo had been told through social media he would need to make a new pledge of allegiance to ISIS. Didwania said Al Safoo replied on Oct. 14 that he “would certainly do so, but would only do so on a secret chat for security reasons.”

The prosecutor said the conversation occurred in Arabic but was translated by an FBI linguist.

Didwania also said photos on Al Safoo’s phone contained information on how to mass-produce sleeves for ball-bearings explosive devices, as well as the front page of a manual about the creation of cylindrical improvised explosive devices.

Defense attorney Geoffrey Meyer insisted that the complaint filed against his client is “wide-open” for a constitutional challenge, and he accused prosecutors of trying to inflame the judge with dramatic allegations.

“I’m not inflamed by anything,” Weisman said.

Al Safoo faces one count of conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization. He was born in Iraq and moved to Chicago in 2008. Meyer said he was naturalized five years ago.

The feds say Al Safoo and several unindicted co-conspirators were active members of the Khattab Media Foundation — a propaganda outfit with a “sworn bayat, or an oath of allegiance, to ISIS.”

Last March, Al Safoo allegedly invited a purported ISIS sympathizer — who was actually an undercover federal officer — to join a Khattab discussion group. The undercover officer found a treasure trove of ISIS propaganda.

Al Safoo is alleged to have taken part in creating and disseminating several such pieces of propaganda. In December 2017, Khattab allegedly created and published a computer-animated video called “Our gifts are ready,” which depicted families standing around a Christmas tree with a castle — bearing a strong resemblance to “Cinderella Castle” at Walt Disney World — in the background.

The video then cuts to a brief clip of President Donald Trump saying, “You have to fight fire…” before the video cuts to explosions, which appear to be occurring in Syria, “with images of dead and injured children being pulled away from the rubble,” according to an FBI affidavit.

The video ends with a warning about future violence to be carried out by ISIS.

Contributing: Sam Charles and Frank Main

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