West Haven Man Admits Attempting to Travel to the Middle East to Join and Fight for ISIS

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FILE PHOTO: American flag waves outside the U.S. Department of Justice Building in Washington

AHMAD KHALIL ELSHAZLY, 25, of West Haven, pleaded guilty today in Bridgeport federal court to attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham(ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist organization.

U.S. Attorney Vanessa Roberts Avery, Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, and Special Agent in Charge David Sundberg of the New Haven Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation made the announcement.

According to court documents and statements made in court, beginning in approximately September 2018, Elshazly, a U.S. citizen, expressed a desire to travel to Syria and the surrounding area to fight on behalf of ISIS.  In numerous conversations online and in person, he pledged allegiance to ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.  For example, in October 2019, Elshazly sent a message pledging allegiance (bayat) to the new leader of ISIS, saying “I pledge my allegiance…to the Khilafah (the successor of the leadership) of the Muslims Abu Ibrahim Al Husseini Al Hashami Al Qurashi…” (after Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s death).

On December 14, 2019, Elshazly paid $500 to a person he believed was an ISIS facilitator who would be able to smuggle him out of the U.S. to Turkey.  He further believed that travelling to Turkey would enable him to connect with ISIS members overseas who, in turn, would assist him with traveling to ISIS within Syria.  On December 15, 2019, Elshazly was arrested after he arrived in Stonington, Connecticut, where he expected to board a boat to begin his trip.

“There is no higher priority than the security of our nation,” said U.S. Attorney Avery.  “My office works closely with our law enforcement partners to prevent and apprehend those who wish to cause violence and other harm, both in the U.S. and abroad, before they are successful.  Much of this vitally important work is done behind the scenes and without public recognition.  I thank the FBI’s JTTF and all the agencies involved in this investigation.”

“Today, the diligent efforts of law enforcement has culminated in a guilty plea of a conspirator of potential terrorist crimes against the people of the United States,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Sundberg.  “Our top priority of the FBI remains the disruption of would be terrorists and the havoc they attempt to cause here and abroad.  Justice has been served.”

Elshazly has been detained since his arrest.  The charge of conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years.  A sentencing date is not scheduled.

This matter has been investigated by Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) with the assistance of the Stonington Police Department, New Haven Police Department and Connecticut State Police.  The FBI’s JTTF includes participants from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Division, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Connecticut State Police, Connecticut Department of Correction, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Department, Norwich Police Department, Hartford Police Department, Stamford Police Department, Norwalk Police Department, Town of Groton Police Department, UConn Police Department, Yale Police Department, and New York Police Department.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret M. Donovan and Trial Attorneys Justin Sher and Daniel Gardner of from the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.