NEWARK—A second man tied to a close circle of friends who were arrested on charges of secretly planning to join ISIS pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court of planning to help the terror organization.
Alaa Saadeh, 24, of West New York, who has been in custody since June, admitted he conspired to provide material support to the Islamic State, known as ISIS or ISIL, by helping his younger brother fly to the Middle East.
According to court filings, Saadeh had discussed efforts to join ISIS with his brother, Nader, who left the country for Jordan earlier this year, allegedly to join up with ISIS. He was sent back in August and is now awaiting trial on similar charges.
“Alaa Saadeh is the second defendant in this case who has admitted trying to provide material support to a known terrorist organization,” said U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. “That organization, and others who share its goals, are intent on recruiting people in this country and around the world to join their campaign against our security.”
Samuel Topaz, 21, of Fort Lee, who went to Fort Lee High School with Nader Saadeh, pleaded guilty in September in the same courtroom to conspiring to provide services and personnel to ISIL. He faces 20 years in prison.
Three others tied to the case include Munther Omar Saleh, a 20-year-old engineering student from Queens who the FBI said it believes was planning on building a deadly pressure cooker bomb; Fareed Mumuni, 21, of Staten Island, who is charged with attacking federal agents who came to arrest him with a kitchen knife; and an unnamed 16-year-old from Queens charged as a juvenile.
The group first came under investigation by the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force after Topaz’s mother apparently went to authorities to express fears that his friends were pushing him to “do something stupid,” according to Topaz’s attorney,Ian Hirsch of Hackensack.
Topaz, who is cooperating with authorities, told his lawyer some of those connected with the group had plans to stage an attack on the lawn of the White House because they were unable to leave the country. Federal prosecutors have not commented beyond the charges outlined in a string of indictments filed in Newark and Brooklyn.
The Saadeh brothers, who are both American-born, grew up in Fort Lee after their parents were deported to Jordan over a credit card fraud case, say law enforcement sources.
According to court filings, Nader Saadeh grew determined to travel to the Middle East to join ISIS. By April of this year, a government informant told the FBI he was speaking mostly in Arabic, had stopped using the computer in the house, and turned to his smartphone for most communications. He told friends he was heading to Jordan and left in May. However, Jordanian security officials took him into custody after his arrival in Amman.
In court Thursday morning before U.S District Judge Susan Wigenton in Newark, Alaa Saadeh admitted assisting his brother with his travel plans by letting him purchase airline tickets using his credit card and by removing the SIM card from Nader’s smartphone and resetting the smartphone in an effort to avoid detection. Saadeh also admitted that Munther Omar Saleh assisted Nader Saadeh by giving him a contact who would facilitate Nader’s travel from Turkey to ISIL in Syria.
After learning that Topaz and others had been arrested, Alaa Saadeh told a friend in a secretly recorded conversation to “just play stupid,” “pretend it never happened,” and “keep it honest up to a point,” according to a criminal complaint.
He faces up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he returns to court for sentencing in February. His attorney, Maria Noto of Matawan, said later outside court that Saadeh was prepared to serve his sentence for the crime he committed, had deep regrets for his involvement.
“He has no history of violence, no history of being involved in anything like this,” she said.
The father of the brothers, Khaled Saadeh, who works as a project manager in the Gulf state of Oman, said they had encouraged Nader to come to Jordan to keep him from traveling to Turkey and joining ISIS,which controls a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq.
“I did what I have to do like a father to protect my sons, but the government is not doing enough to protect our kids from this kind of group, who try to brainwash our kids,” he said in email.
Nationwide, at least 70 men and woman have been charged with conspiring to aid ISIS since March 2014, many lured by social media, according to the Center on National Security at Fordham School of Law. More than 80 percent were U.S. citizens, the center found. The vast majority were charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Their average age was 26. Three who actually made it to ISIS-controlled territory were reported killed.
Again, it all leads back to immigration. The parents were Muslim immigrants who caught in a credit card fraud racket. Had they not been allowed into the U.S., these particular jihadis would not have been our problem.
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