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Former pizza shop owner convicted of helping recruit for Islamic State accused of attempted murder in prison

Mufid Elfgeeh (Mugshot from 2014 handout by the New York's Monroe County Sheriff's Office; arrest photo from AP Photo/Democrat & Chronicle, Carlos Ortiz)

Mufid Elfgeeh (Inset: 2014 handout via New York’s Monroe County Sheriff’s Office; arrest photo via AP Photo/Democrat & Chronicle, Carlos Ortiz)

A former New York pizza shop owner who authorities said was one of the first Islamic State group recruiters ever captured in the U.S. is accused of trying to kill an inmate in a Kentucky prison where he was serving his 22-year sentence for attempting to recruit fighters and raise funds for the terrorist group, authorities said.

Mufid Elfgeeh, 39, allegedly tried to kill someone identified in an indictment as A.J.W. at a federal penitentiary in Kentucky on Jan. 15, 2019. No further details were revealed about the accusation in the one-page indictment filed last week. He’s currently being held at a high-security lockup in Pennsylvania, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Elfgeeh was arrested on May 31, 2014, and pleaded guilty in 2015 to charges that he attempted to recruit fighters and raise funds for ISIL, authorities said.

From December 2013 to May 2014, prosecutors alleged, Elfgeeh recruited and attempted to send two people who were informants for the FBI at the time to Syria to fight on behalf of ISIL. He sent anti-American ISIL propaganda videos to one person and arranged for an English-speaking ISIL contact in Iraq to communicate with that person on Facebook, officials said.

Elfgeeh ultimately paid more than $240 for that individual to obtain a copy of his birth certificate, passport photographs and an expedited passport, officials said. He also is believed to have purchased a laptop computer and a high-definition camera for both individuals to take to Syria.

“The defendant further provided guidance to them about traveling so that they could avoid detection and be prepared for the vetting process involved in joining ISIL,” authorities alleged. “In May 2014, Elfgeeh arranged for an overseas contact to coordinate the logistics of the trip and the admission of both individuals into ISIL-controlled territory in Syria.”

According to court documents, Elfgeeh also sent $600 to a third individual in Aden, Yemen, to assist that individual in traveling from Yemen to Syria to join and fight on behalf of ISIL, authorities said. He also allegedly communicated with a Syrian national in May 2014, alleged to be the military commander of the Green Battalion of the United Rebels of Homs-Al-Murabitun, a group of fighters in Homs, Syria.

At the time, the battalion was blockaded in Homs and needed military support, including ammunition, mortar shells and explosives that could penetrate armored vehicles to break out, authorities said.

He was sentenced in 2016 to more than 22 years in prison.

Authorities have said that Elfgeeh’s apprehension and criminal case struck “a significant blow against ISIL killers and wannabes.”

“ISIL’s horrific violence is waged against men, women and children, as well as against Muslims and non-Muslims alike,” Assistant Attorney General Carlin said when Elfgeeh was sentenced.

Elfgeeh, a national of Yemen, was admitted to the United States in 1997 as a family member of a naturalized United States citizen and later became a naturalized citizen himself, authorities said. He moved to Brooklyn as a teenager to be with his father and later relocated to Rochester, New York, where he ran a small pizza shop. According to the FBI, Elfgeeh was introduced to radical Muslim teaching at an early age.

Elfgeeh was arrested when he took possession of two handguns and two silencers he bought for $1,000, the FBI said in a summary of his case.

An FBI investigation revealed “he was dangerously close to shifting from support to violent jihad on U.S. soil,” the site said.

He was described as one of the first ISIL recruiters ever apprehended and was arrested weeks after ISIL had been officially designated a terrorist organization, authorities said.

“Killing U.S. veterans was justified in his mind,” said an FBI agent assigned to the investigation. “He had stated, ‘we kill them as they kill us.'”

He was listed in a U.S. Justice Department and Homeland Security report showing how many convicted terrorists entered the country through the immigration system.

A fact sheet by the then-President Trump White House in January 2018 entitled “Our Current Immigration System Jeopardizes American Security” said Elfgeeh was among “a significant number of terrorists” who entered the United States solely based on “family ties and extended-family chain migration.”

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