A former Eastover, North Carolina resident and alleged supporter of the Islamic State was sentenced Wednesday to two years in federal prison on fraud and tax charges, according to a news release from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Upon his release, Houcine Becher Ghoul, 43, a native of Tunisia, is to be deported, the release said.
Ghoul, a former employee at the Snack Attack convenience store on Bragg Boulevard in Fayetteville, pleaded guilty in November to attempted unlawful procurement of naturalization and making false statements on his tax returns.
Ghoul entered the United States in 2001 on a tourist visa. He overstayed his visa and married a U.S. citizen, the release said, later divorcing her. Ghoul then obtained status as a legal permanent resident.
In April 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was made aware of a photo posted online by Ghoul “that explicitly displayed support for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham,” also known as ISIS, a designated terrorist organization, the release said.
The picture showed a person holding a sign with a line, written in Arabic, that said, “The victory of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.” Below that, was written, in English, “ISIS” and “N. Carolina, USA.”
Investigators later learned that the person did not know what was written on the sign that he was asked to hold for the photo.
The picture appeared later in an “online propaganda video posted by others in an attempt to display the worldwide support for ISIS,” the release said.
The FBI discovered that the Facebook account of Ghoul, who was then living in Cumberland County, was in an Arabic name and showed support for the two terrorist groups, court documents said.
On his Facebook page, Ghoul, who was using a different name, described himself as “extremist, terrorist, tough, brain-washed, radical, I love explosions, booby trapping, beheading the enemy, and am among the supporters of establishing the religion with the sword.”
Ghoul applied for U.S. citizenship in December 2014 and was interviewed for his application in February 2017, the release said.
During the interview, Ghoul made false statements, saying he was not and never had been associated with a terrorist organization. He claimed, falsely, that he had never called for the overthrow of a government and had not committed crimes for which he had not been arrested.
Ghoul said he had not married so he could get an immigration benefit and denied having provided bogus information in order to get public benefits.
In fact, the release said, Ghoul was a devoted supporter of ISIS and called for an overthrow of the United States government, had assisted in the illegal sale of drugs, married to obtain citizenship and lied to North Carolina officials so he would received childcare benefits.
Ghoul filed tax returns in 2015 and 2016 in which he failed to report at least $90,000 of his income.
© 2018 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.