Arafat M. Nagi’s loyalty to ISIS was evident everywhere.
He posted a Facebook photo of himself wearing combat gear, holding an AK-47 style rifle and standing in front of an Islamic flag.
He talked openly with his Lackawanna neighbors about his support for violent jihad.
Nagi even went so far as to voice support for terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in statements and photos on social media.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara sentenced Nagi to 15 years in prison.
Nagi, in his first public comments on his prosecution, said he saw ISIS as a group on the right side of the war in Syria and an organization well-equipped to help people hurt by the conflict.
“I wanted nothing to do with violence,” he told Arcara Monday.
In an earlier letter to the judge, Nagi, 47, said his intention was to help with ISIS’ humanitarian efforts, not join in the fighting.
“The most well organized group in Syria was the Islamic State,” he said. “I wanted to help, not as a fighter as some suggested, but to help in a way that I won’t get involved in the fighting, but to volunteer in humanitarian aid.”
Nagi’s public statement follows his guilty plea in January and his admission that he tried to join ISIS.
Investigated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, Nagi was arrested in 2015 and charged with attempting to provide material support – in this case, himself – to a foreign terrorist organization.
“We are at war with ISIS,” U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr. said of Nagi’s statements and actions. “It was very clear his goal was to join the fight.”
The FBI says Nagi’s first attempt at joining the terrorist group in 2012 failed when a medical condition in Turkey forced him to return to the U.S.
Before leaving for that initial trip, Nagi sought the advice of one of the Lackawanna Six, the six men convicted of providing support to al-Qaida several years before.
“He wanted to be a fighter on behalf of ISIS,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy C. Lynch told Arcara. “Mr. Nagi can’t sit here and say this is about humanitarian aid because the evidence shows otherwise.”
As part of his plea deal, Nagi acknowledged traveling from Lackawanna to Turkey again in July 2014 with the intention of making his way to Syria and eventually joining forces with ISIS.
That second trip, according to the FBI, followed a revealing text from Nagi to a family member, in which “the defendant makes reference to possibly never seeing his family again.”
Investigators said Nagi’s trips to Turkey also followed his purchase of military combat equipment, including body armor, night vision goggles, a machete, a hunting knife and a tactical vest.
From Day One, defense lawyer Jeremy D. Schwartz argued that his client’s actions and statements were evidence of his religious and political beliefs, nothing more.
“He never harbored ill will to the United States,” said Schwartz. “He was trying to join an organization he thought was on the right side of a war at the other end of the world.”
The investigation into Nagi dates back more than three years and was fueled by a tip from a community member upset about his vocal support for violent jihad, prosecutors said early on in the case.
Over time, it became clear the Lacakwanna man had gone so far as to publicly pledge his allegiance to ISIS and, in a display of that loyalty, take a photo of himself dressed in combat gear, holding a rifle and standing in front an Islamic flag.
“It had nothing to do with violence,” Nagi said of the photo Monday. “I did it at home just to show off.”
The FBI says Nagi also expressed support for ISIS on his Twitter account and, in one tweet, posted a photo of three severed heads with this message in Arabic: “God is the Greatest. The three severed heads, those who dug their graves by their own hand.”
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