“…among other locations.” via Officials: Ex-Dover Mall kiosk owner financed ISIS plot
A man who last year operated a Dover Mall kiosk that repaired cellphones was the alleged financier of what federal prosecutors say was a terrorist plot to fly two other suspects to Syria to join the Islamic State fighters, The News Journal has learned.
Abror Habibov, 30, who was arraigned Wednesday in Jacksonville, Florida, and held without bail, ran the I Cell Fix kiosk at the mall and also briefly lived in Dover.
“We are aware that Habibov was known to operate or work at a kiosk at the Dover Mall,” Dover Police Cpl. Mark A. Hoffman said.
The indictment said Habibov operates kiosks that sell kitchenware and repair mobile phones in malls in Philadelphia; Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, Virginia; Savannah, Georgia; and Jacksonville, “among other locations.”
At the I Cell Fix kiosk in Chesapeake on Thursday afternoon, an employee told a reporter that he had just learned of Habibov’s arrests.
“It’s crazy,” said the man, who identified himself as Amin, but declined to give his last name.
Talk about crazy. And Kiosks can be ideal for terror financing, expert says
Relaxed background checks, short-term leases and an easy-to-launder cash flow are among the reasons owning a mall kiosk could be ideal for a terrorist living in the United States, an expert on terrorism financing said.
Abror Habibov, the alleged financier of a plot to fly two associates to Syria to join the Islamic State group, operated the I Cell Fix kiosk at the Dover Mall. Habibov was arraigned Wednesday in Florida.
Authorities have not released information about the nature of Habibov’s businesses or his time in Delaware. His public defender did not respond to calls from The News Journal.
Mall kiosks offer relatively anonymity, said Moyara Ruehsen, an associate professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California. Ruehsen has researched money laundering and terrorism.
“I think kiosks are easy to set up because you don’t have to provide that much information, compared to taking out a small-business loan to start a larger-scale business,” she said.
Brady Flowers of Minneapolis, who has spent 10 years in the kiosk industry, said each mall has different standards to evaluate people who apply. He said malls have adopted more stringent requirements for ownership since the 2008 credit crunch. But Flowers said that a credit check might be the only review a mall may request in addition to verifying a business license and federal tax identification number.
“If I saw a rent sign in a strip mall, I would have to go through a qualification process to have that space,” he said. “The difference with a kiosk is that they really only want to know what you are going to sell.”
Ruehsen said an all-cash business such as a kiosk would be ideal because it would avoid a complicated, easy-to-trace money-laundering process.
“It doesn’t take much money here in the states if you are an independent cell and not getting money from a larger organization,” she said.
This isn’t the first time kiosks have been linked with the funding of terrorism.
In 2002, FBI and INS agents raided more than 65 jewelry stores kiosks operating at Intrigue Jewelers in six states, including one in Philadelphia. That chain was owned by a Florida company suspected of funding terrorist activity and laundering terrorist money.
Lawmakers with both parties started looking closer Friday at Delaware’s business registration practices after the discovery that accused terrorists set up shop in a Dover Mall kiosk without direct city, county or state permits or approvals.
The state’s top tax officer was unable to find any sign of Abror Habibov’s I Cell Fix in the Division of Revenue’s license database. The agency plans a check of other such sites at Dover Mall, along with a wider reminder to host sites like malls that they need to verify permit compliance when they open doors to vendors.
“As far as we can tell, there is no entity” connected with Habibov on record, Carter said. “We ask that places like the Dover Mall and Christiana Mall make sure that anybody that does business there has an active license.”
The Dover company also was not listed among companies that had secured a required Kent County permit.
Next time you’re at the mall and think about buying fake Rayban sunglasses, a Louie Vuitton handbag, some watered down brand name perfume or a remote control helicopter – ask the kiosk owner a few polite questions.
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