A 37-year-old Brooklyn resident is facing terror charges after he allegedly expressed support for a truck attack in Times Square similar to one ISIS claimed responsibility for in Nice, France.
As CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported, the federal criminal complaint was issued Monday against Mohamed Rafik Naji, 37 – a citizen of Yemen, but a permanent legal resident of the U.S.
Naji was awoken and arrested at 3 a.m. Monday at his home in Brooklyn, authorities said. Cellphone video showed federal agents leading Naji from his apartment on Clarendon Road in Flatbush.
A witness who recorded his arrest reported that dozens of officers from at least five agents came to arrest Naji.
“He was arrested at 3 this morning and charged with material support of a terrorist organization, which you know, that’s what we do in New York now,” said Naji defense attorney Susan Kellman.
Naji appeared in U.S. District Court in Downtown Brooklyn for an initial hearing Tuesday afternoon.
The Justice Department said Naji has been supporting ISIS or ISIL since 2014. Naji traveled to Turkey and Yemen between March 2015 and September 2015, according to the criminal complaint.
Kellman said her client had innocent and legitimate reasons to be in Yemen.
“According to the complaint, he traveled overseas to Yemen, which you know, is immediately suspect in the view of our government,” Kellman said. “Of course, the fact that he has family over there and three children didn’t seem to affect the government one way or the other, but he certainly had legitimate reasons to be over there.”
But when Naji returned, prosecutors said he expressed support for carrying out attacks in Times Square, similar to the one on Bastille Day in July in Nice, France that killed 86 people.
The complaint states Naji emailed his girlfriend, who allegedly wired him money on several occasions, about his efforts to join the terror group in Yemen. In one email Naji allegedly wrote (cq), “It’s very hard to get in I’m on my 5 try its difficult mad po po military and ppl here very scared inshallah I make it m keep trying if not m have to go from somewhere else.”
The complaint further spelled out a recorded conversation Naji had with a confidential informant in which he allegedly said: If there is a truck, I mean a garbage truck and one drives it there to Times-Square and crushes them shshshshshsh… Times-Square Day….They want an operation in Times-Square.”
Naji allegedly told the informant further: “They want an operation in Times-Square, reconnaissance group already put out a scene, the Islamic State already put up scenes of Times-Square.”
But in a later email, Naji said, “we can’t get in,” the complaint read.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the arrest is “a sharp reminder of the evolving threat of global terrorism.”
“New York must remain vigilant in the face of hate and intolerance, and continue to advance the core values of democracy that this state and nation were founded upon,” Cuomo said, adding there is no specific threat at this time.
Just last week, an online ISIS magazine described the upcoming Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as “an excellent target” for a similar track attack. The NYPD is already planning a large security detail.
“It is a very large detail,” said NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill. “I think this year, you’re going to see a lot more block cars and sand trucks on the cross-streets.”
Authorities said Naji works as an Uber driver in Brooklyn.
Naji is also accused of trying to join ISIS in Yemen. On Monday night, neighbors in his apartment building say while they didn’t know Naji, they are still fearful.
“I think it’s crazy, honestly. It’s just crazy,” one woman said from behind her closed door. “I don’t what to say.”
Naji is charged with providing material support to a terror group. His attorney said they are trying to put together a bail package.