Arman, 27, and Omar Ali, 26, would not follow the path of most Plano kids leaving home to start a life.
After some college study, the brothers moved to Egypt and then traveled to Syria to fight alongside ISIS terrorists, according to federal court records.
Now, their parents are charged with lying to the FBI about their sons’ activities in the Middle East. Mohommad Hasnain Ali and Sumaiya Ali pleaded guilty in federal court in June to making a false statement regarding international terrorism. They were scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday, but the hearing has been postponed. A new date has not been established.
It’s unclear whether the brothers are still alive. They were charged in a sealed federal complaint in March with providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations. No indictments have been publicly filed in the case.
The case illustrates what studies of leaked ISIS files have shown: Many Islamic State recruits from the U.S. are well-educated and come from middle-class families. Plano neighbors described the Ali family as quiet but friendly. The father played tennis with one neighbor and engaged in friendly discussions with him about religion. The whole family came over for dinner one night.
Mohommad Ali, 57, declined to comment when reached at his Plano home on Monday.
But when FBI agents interviewed him in May 2015, he told them his sons were in Cairo, Egypt.
“He advised that his sons were peaceful, liked to study, and never indicated they would be affiliated with any terrorist group,” plea documents in the case said.
But his emails tell a different story.
In October 2014, Arman emailed his father a link to a video of an ISIS military parade in Libya. In the email, Arman talked about others who had traveled from the U.S. to join ISIS, according to federal court records.
In November, Arman sent his mother an email with his travel itinerary. She shared it with her husband. Arman and Omar traveled from Egypt to Syria via Turkey to fight for ISIS in late 2014, court records show.
Arman sent his father an email from Syria in March 2015:
“Things are heating up here, and I can’t guarantee me or Omar will be there in 2 months… I’ve been to the hospital every day with brothers from my group. Close friends have died, too many injured. Me and Omar are perfectly fine right now, but soon we may not be.”
But Mohommad Ali continued to tell the FBI agents that “there was no way his sons were in Syria,” court records show.
Sumaiya Ali, 49, also denied her sons were fighting, telling agents they are “very reserved” and had not made friends in Egypt.
“The defendant insisted that her sons would never be involved with ISIS or any other group,” plea documents said.
It was a lie, according to federal authorities.
“Prior to her sons’ departure from Egypt, the defendant communicated regularly with them regarding their whereabouts and desire to fight for ISIS,” plea documents said.
In February 2014, for example, she told Omar, “Do what you need to do.”
Omar responded: “Ok then going to Syria it is.”
He emailed her again in October 2014 to say, “Allah tells the Muslim to fight, kill and exile ‘those who wage war against Allah or His messenger,’” according to court records.
In March 2015, Omar told his mother he was trying to transfer to an “English speaking battalion.”
The offense the Ali’s are charged with carries a maximum penalty of eight years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
But the couple reached an agreement with prosecutors in the Eastern District of Texas for 36 months probation for him and 18 months probation for her, as well as a $5,000 fine for both, court records show.
U.S. District Judge Marcia A. Crone will decide whether or not to approve that agreement during the sentencing hearing Thursday.
“The defendant has cooperated with the government and agreed to provide testimony, should it become necessary to do so in the future,” said Catherine McDonald, an attorney for Mohommad Ali, in court papers.
The charges were filed in May. It’s unclear when and where the couple was arrested. However, court records show that FBI agents questioned them in a room at DFW International Airport after getting a warrant to search their luggage.
The brothers, who have a younger sister, attended Rice Middle School and Plano Senior High School, according to the school district. Arman was in the school’s guitar club, according to the yearbook.
The house they grew up in near Coit Road and Hedgcoxe Road is valued at $423,959.
Joining the fight
Arman attended the University of Texas at Austin from fall 2008 to spring 2011 but did not earn a degree, a university spokesperson said. His LinkedIn page said he studied neurobiology and religion at the school.
It said he earned a bachelor’s degree in Arab and Islamic civilization from The American University in Cairo in 2014. Arman’s LinkedIn page also said he earned a master’s degree in Islamic studies from the school. The university declined to confirm that, saying its policy is not to release student information without their consent.
But he became religious during his second year and gradually grew more orthodox.
Arman was no longer playing soccer, basketball and video games with friends. He was spending more time at the mosque, he said. He grew a beard and started listening to Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist who runs Infowars.
Arman watched news constantly, said the friend, who recalled last speaking to him in 2013. He became disillusioned by the 2008 economic recession, and he soured on Western culture.
“It had a big effect on him … he thought we were going down on the wrong path,” he said. “He started researching different government structures.”
Did either of the brothers join the Muslim Student Association (MSA) – as this convicted Muslim from Texas did?
What mosque did he/they attend? Who are the imams? And why has it taken seven months for news of two Muslim brothers from Texas joining ISIS to be made public?
More importantly, why are the jihadi parents who clearly supported and encouraged their sons to wage jihad for the Islamic State not in jail or being deported?