NBC News has obtained exclusive video of the extradition of Islamic cleric Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal from Jamaica to the U.S. He is accused of using his public profile and personal network to recruit sympathizers and potential Islamic State fighters, Manhattan prosecutors said Friday.
Abdullah al-Faisal, also known as Shaikh Faisal or Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal, pleaded not guilty in Manhattan state court to five charges, including conspiracy and supporting terrorism.
He was extradited Thursday with the help of the Justice Department. He had previously been jailed in Jamaica.
Al-Faisal, 56, was previously convicted in the United Kingdom of crimes related to inciting murder and using hateful rhetoric in furtherance of terrorist ideologies. In 2017, he was named a “specially designated global terrorist” by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
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Al-Faisal was arrested nearly three years ago as part of a New York Police Department Intelligence Bureau investigation. According to his indictment, Faisal spread ISIS propaganda and detailed how an undercover NYPD officer could travel to the Middle East in order to get to Syria and fight with ISIS.
The investigation into Faisal began in 2016, according to New York police. Charging documents show that an undercover police officer flew with members of the NYPD intelligence bureau to the Middle East where al-Faisal allegedly provided contact information for a person based in Raqqa, Syria. That person later began to put into place a plan to bring the undercover police officer into ISIS-controlled territory.
Prosecutors for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office told a judge Friday that evidence obtained through a search warrant included communications with Germaine Lindsey, one of the July 7, 2005, London suicide bombers; Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 2009 “underwear bomber;” Faisal Shazad, who attempted to bomb Times Square in 2010; Khuram Butt, the 2017 London Bridge attacker; and several other high-profile terrorists.
“Al-Faisal told the court he had held Osama Bin Laden in ‘great respect’ but that he had ‘lost the path’ since 11 September,” the BBC reported in 2007.
Prosecutors allege that, in the course of lawfully accessing his email and cloud accounts, they discovered communications with numerous ISIS fighters, including high-ranking members of that terrorist organization.
“The way forward is not the ballot, al-Faisal said in an online speech in 2016. “The way forward is the bullet.”
New York police say they sought and obtained approval from the Justice Department to conduct the investigation overseas and, in August of 2017, worked with Jamaican authorities to arrest al-Faisal.
“The indictment and arrest of Shaikh Faisal nearly three years ago put a stop to the prolific, radical Islamic propaganda and terror recruitment alleged in this case – delivering a major blow to ISIS’ overall recruitment capabilities,” Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said in a statement Friday.
“Faisal has spent two decades inspiring the terrorists behind plots and attacks in London, New York, and onboard airplanes in flight,” NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said.
Al-Faisal will be held in jail pending trial, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
Tom Winter is a New York-based correspondent covering crime, courts, terrorism and financial fraud on the East Coast for the NBC News Investigative Unit.
Jonathan Dienst is a reporter for WNBC-TV in New York, leading its investigative reporting team and covering justice and law enforcement issues.
Alicia Victoria Lozano