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Dearborn man’s jihad journey to Syria chronicled in federal court

Members from the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service present Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with a flag from Bartilah, a town recaptured just outside of Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. (DoD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro/Released)

A Dearborn man captured overseas and charged with supporting the Islamic State fought in two countries, fired on Syrian forces and trained in religious and military camps, federal prosecutors said.

Prosecutors provided new details about Ibraheem Musaibli’s journey to jihad and the nearly three years he spent in Yemen, Iraq and Syria before he was captured by Syrian Democratic Forces in July 2018.

The government revealed the new details Monday while trying to convince U.S. District Judge David Lawson to prevent Musaibli and his lawyer from seeing classified evidence that, if disclosed, could harm national security.

Musaibli’s case presents one of the first times the Trump administration is using federal courts to prosecute a returning foreign fighter. Musaibli was brought back to Metro Detroit last year and charged with conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist organization.

Prosecutors want the judge to review the information privately and decide whether it is necessary for Musaibli, 29, to have while defending against charges that could send him to prison for at least 40 years and up to life.

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The classified information “is not both relevant and helpful, nor does it contain material that is exculpatory, impeaching, or otherwise discoverable,” prosecutors Cathleen Corken and Kevin Mulcahy wrote.

The court filing offers new details about the roots of a federal investigation that emerged last year when Musaibli was captured on a Syrian battlefield.

The investigation started in July 2016 when the State Department received a tip that Musaibli was engaged in jihad in Iraq, according to the filing. The emailed tip included a photo of Musaibli with what appeared to be a rifle.

The FBI learned that Musaibli had left the U.S. a year earlier and traveled to Yemen, where he lived for six months before leaving for Syria to join the Islamic State, known as ISIS, prosecutors wrote.

“By late October or early November 2015, (Musaibli) was with ISIS in Raqqa, Syria, the capital of ISIS at that time,” according to the government.

While in Raqqa, Musaibli spent 10 days at an Islamic State religious training camp and traveled with other ISIS members to Mosul, Iraq, where he attended an ISIS military training camp, prosecutors said.

“The military camp included training on traversing terrain with a machine gun, shooting a machine gun, and conducting ambush techniques,” prosecutors wrote. “Upon graduation from the ISIS military training camp, the defendant swore allegiance to ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.”

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After finishing military training, Musaibli was assigned to a military brigade and received a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a vest, magazines and grenades, prosecutors said.

Musaibli and members of the brigade, armed with rifles, grenades and rocket-propelled grenades, traveled to Hit, Iraq, according to the government. There was a battle underway but Musaibli told investigators he only performed guard duty.

He maintained a social media presence, prosecutors said.

FBI agents searched his Facebook account and found postings and communications that confirmed his role as an Islamic State fighter and Musaibli told several people he was conducting “jihad,” according to the government.

“I haven’t killed any civilians so I don’t know what ur talking about all I see in the battle place is (a derogatory term used by ISIS to refer to Shia Muslims) army with Iranian and u.s. flag,” Musaibli wrote in August 2016, according to the court filing.

Investigators found other ties between Musaibli and the Islamic State.

In February 2017, military forces in Mosul, Iraq, recovered an Islamic State personnel roster written in Arabic that contained Musaibli’s birthday and nom de guerre, Abu ‘Abd-Al-Rahman Al-Yemeni, prosecutors said.

A recorded conversation from March 2017 indicates Musaibli knowingly joined the Islamic State, prosecutors said. That contradicts comments from Musaibli’s relatives who told The Detroit News that he was tricked by fellow Muslims into traveling overseas and became trapped in war-torn Syria.

By November 2016, Musaibli was with the Islamic State in eastern Syria, prosecutors said.

“The defendant admitted to law enforcement that he conducted armed guard duty and fought on behalf of ISIS against the Syrian Army…,” prosecutors wrote. “He claimed to recall only firing his weapon twice at Syrian military positions.”

Musaibli later retreated before being captured by Syrian Democratic Forces and flown to the U.S. in July 2018.

He remains jailed without bond pending a trial Aug. 6 in federal court in Detroit.

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© 2019 The Detroit News