A Yemeni man living in New York City was arrested on Monday and charged by U.S. prosecutors with attempting to provide support to Islamic State, including by expressing support for an attack in Times Square. Mohamed Rafik Naji, who authorities say last year traveled to Turkey and Yemen in an effort to join the militant group, was charged in a criminal complaint filed in Brooklyn, where he lives. He was arrested earlier Monday, according to a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He is expected to appear in court later in the afternoon. A lawyer could not be immediately identified.
Naji, 37, is one of more than 100 people to face U.S. charges since 2014 in cases related to the Islamic State militant group, which has seized control of parts of Iraq and Syria. According to the complaint, in March 2015, Naji flew to Turkey to join Islamic State in Yemen, where it operated in certain parts. He returned to New York in September 2015, flying from Djibouti, the complaint said.
While abroad, he frequently emailed with his girlfriend, who he later called his wife, asking her for money and sending her a “selfie” of himself in black clothing in which a tactical vest and large knife could be seen, the complaint said.
Beginning in August 2015, a paid law enforcement informant made contact via Facebook with Naji, who the complaint said described Islamic State as “spreading like a virus” that non-believers “can’t stop it no matter what they do.”
Naji remained in contact with the informant once back in the United States, meeting on numerous occasions in which their conversations were recorded, the complaint said. Those conversations included one on July 19, 2016, five days after an attack in Nice, France, that Islamic State had claimed responsibility for that killed 84 and hurt hundreds, the complaint said.
In that conversation, Naji expressed his support for staging a similar attack in New York’s Times Square, according to court papers.
“They want an operation in Times Square, reconnaissance group already put out a scene, the Islamic State already put up scenes of Times Square, you understand,” Naji said, according to court papers. “I said that was an indication for whoever is smart to know.”