COVID-19 or not, violent Islamists in the U.S. continue to try to perpetrate their nefarious schemes. Law enforcement has been right behind.
In Minnesota, a doctor from Pakistan, who was once a research coordinator for the esteemed Mayo Clinic, was indicted on terrorism charges for pledging allegiance to ISIS, planning to travel overseas to join the terrorist group and expressing a desire to carry out lone wolf attacks in the U.S.
Muhammad Masood, 28, was in the U.S. legally on an H-1B Visa. The visa allows foreign workers in specialty occupations to be temporarily employed in the U.S.
The FBI began investigating Masood in January after he posted messages on an encrypted platform expressing his support for ISIS. He ended up explaining to an informant that he was a medical doctor with a Pakistani passport and wanted to travel to Syria, Iraq or northern Iran near Afghanistan “to fight on the front line as well as help the wounded brothers.”
In another communication, Masood said to an informant, “There is so much I wanted to do here .. .lon wulf [sic] stuff you know … but I realized I should be on the ground helping brothers sisters kids,” according to an FBI affidavit.
On Feb. 21, 2020, Masood purchased a plane ticket from Chicago to Amman, Jordan. From there, he planned to travel to Syria, according to the Justice Department. But on March 16, 2020, Masood was forced to change his travel plans as Jordan had just closed its borders due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Masood subsequently made a new plan to fly from Minneapolis to Los Angeles to meet up with an individual who he believed would assist him in boarding a cargo ship which would take him to ISIS territory.
On March 19, Masood traveled from Rochester to Minneapolis to board a flight to Los Angeles. He arrived at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, checked in for his flight and was promptly arrested by members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
A Pakistani-American woman from Long Island, New York was sentenced to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges.
Zoobia Shahnaz, who pleaded guilty to the charges, provided more than $150,000 to ISIS and attempted to travel to Syria to join the terrorist group.
Shahnaz defrauded numerous financial institutions to obtain the funds for ISIS, including taking out a loan for close to $22,500. She fraudulently obtained more than a dozen credit cards and used them to purchase approximately $62,000 in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies online. She then made multiple wire transfers totaling more than $150,000 to individuals and entities in Pakistan, China and Turkey that were fronts for ISIS.
Shahnaz also accessed violent jihad-related websites and message boards of ISIS as well as social media and messaging pages of known ISIS recruiters, facilitators and financiers.
She performed numerous internet searches for information to facilitate her entry into Syria. A court-authorized search of Shahnaz’s residence found terrorist and jihad-related propaganda, including a photograph of an explosive belt used in suicide bombings and a night vision scope.
On July 31, 2017, Shahnaz was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, while attempting to board a flight with a layover in Istanbul, Turkey – a common point of entry for those traveling from Western countries to join ISIS in Syria.