Virginia 17-year-old pleads guilty to using Twitter to help Islamic State

Virginia 17-year-old pleads guilty to using Twitter to help Islamic State

It's been a busy day for terrorism prosecutions in the United States. On Thursday, officials announced new charges or guilty pleas in three separate terrorism-related cases in Virginia, New York and Florida.

Two of the cases involve defendants in the U.S. supporting Islamic State in the Middle East and one involved a New York City bombing plot apparently inspired by an Al Qaeda affiliate.

Virginia

A Virginia 17-year-old used Twitter to rouse support for Islamic State and helped others plan travel to join the militant group in the Middle East, federal officials said Thursday.

Ali Shukri Amin of Manassas, who was charged as an adult, pleaded guilty in federal court in Virginia on Thursday to conspiring to provide material support and resources to the terrorist organization, the Justice Department said.

Officials said Amin used a Twitter account, @Amreekiwitness -- Amreeki is transliterated Arabic for "American" -- to tell others how to use the bitcoin digital currency to launder donations to Islamic State.

Amin also "facilitated travel" for Reza Niknejad, 18, of Prince William County, Va., who went to Syria in January to join Islamic State, according to the Justice Department's announcement.

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors in Virginia charged Niknejad with, among other counts, conspiring to kill others abroad. The U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of Virginia could not be immediately reached for comment for further information on Niknejad's case.

The two Virginia cases are the latest in a string of Islamic State-related prosecutions by federal officials, who say the group has been using social media to recruit members to commit attacks in America or to join the group's takeover of large swaths of Iraq and Syria.

"Around the nation, we are seeing ISIL use social media to reach out from the other side of the world," John Carlin, assistant U.S. attorney general for national security, said in a statement Thursday, using the official government acronym for Islamic State.

"Their messages are reaching America in an attempt to radicalize, recruit and incite our youth and others to support ISIL's violent causes," Carlin said. "This case serves as a wake-up call that ISIL's propaganda and recruitment materials are in your communities and being viewed by your youth."

Amin's sentencing was scheduled for Aug. 28, and the charge against him carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

Brooklyn, N.Y.

On Thursday, federal officials also announced a grand jury had indicted a Uzbek national, Akmal Zakirov, 29, on a charge of helping to fund a Brooklyn man's plan to fly to Istanbul, Turkey, and then cross the Syrian border to join Islamic State.

Zakirov, who was arraigned in federal court in the Eastern District of New York on Thursday afternoon, pleaded not guilty. A hearing was set for June 16. Four other Brooklyn residents have been charged and arrested in connection with the purported plot. 

"Zakirov is the fifth to be charged as part of the network of individuals alleged to have conspired and attempted to provide material support to ISIL," Kelly T. Currie, acting U.S. attorney for the district, said in a statement.

"Our efforts to investigate terrorist support groups are ongoing," Currie said.

"We are committed to disrupting and deterring those who seek to support ISIL, whether by lending themselves or their funds to ISIL's cause."

Florida

On Thursday, two Pakistani American brothers, Raees Alam Qazi, 22, and Sheheryar Alam Qazi, 32, were sentenced for plotting to set off a bomb in New York City in 2012 and to assaulting two deputy U.S. marshals after the two had been arrested, federal officials said.

With the support of his brother, and apparently inspired by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Raees Alam Qazi had tried and failed to travel to Afghanistan through Pakistan in 2011, according to a Justice Department announcement.

He used Inspire magazine, an Al Qaeda propaganda publication that contains instructions on how to build bombs, to communicate with the Al Qaeda affiliate and then traveled to New York in a failed plot to set off a bomb, officials said.

After their arrest, they simultaneously shouted "God is great!" in Arabic and punched two deputy U.S. marshals at a federal court in Miami on April 8, 2014, in an apparently coordinated attack, officials said.

Federal officials said Raees Alam Qazi pleaded guilty March 12 to one count of conspiring to support a terrorist bomb plot, one count of attempting to support a terrorist organization and one count of conspiring to assault a federal employee. He was sentenced Thursday to 35 years in prison followed with 10 years of supervised release.

His older brother, Sherheyar Alam Qazi, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to support a terrorist bomb plot and one count of conspiring to assault a federal employee. He was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison followed with five years of supervised release.

Follow @MattDPearce for national news.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

2:54 p.m.: This article was updated with details of Akmal Zakirov's arraignment.

This article was originally published at 2:47 p.m.

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