Said Azzam Mohamad Rahim lived a comfortable life in North Texas, where he operated his own convenience store.
But he wanted more, prosecutors say: war, murder and jihad.
As a result, the 43-year-old Richardson man will spend the next 30 years in a federal prison for trying to recruit ISIS fighters on a social media app called Zello.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Jane Boyle read Rahim’s own words to him before she sentenced him in a courtroom in Dallas in the terrorism case. Among the words Rahim used that she read were, “Kill them and do not show them compassion or mercy.”
“There’s so much hate out there,” Boyle told Rahim. “We just can’t tolerate that in this country.”
A federal jury convicted Rahim in May after hearing some of the same language that he spoke on Zello to like-minded people. The jury found him guilty of six counts of making a false statement to a federal agency, one count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and one count of conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
Based on punishment enhancements for terrorism, Rahim could have received up to 88 years in prison.
Rahim raged obsessively online against “infidels” and other enemies of the Islamic State, and he used the social media chat group he moderated to call for their slaughter at home and abroad, by any means, according to evidence at his trial.
He laughed about the slaughter of civilians in terrorist attacks in Orlando and abroad, in countries like Turkey and France, prosecutors said Wednesday. Much of his words were spoken in Arabic. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Errin Martin asked the judge to recall the tone of Rahim’s voice when he said in English: “ISIS will chop your head off … we’re going to slaughter you like sheep.”
The FBI arrested Rahim at DFW International Airport in March 2017 before he could board a flight to Jordan. Rahim told agents, among other things, that the purpose of his trip was to see his daughter, who lives in Jordan with her mother. But federal authorities said Rahim expressed a “willingness and a hope” to join ISIS fighters in Syria, which borders Jordan.
Martin said on Wednesday that it was clear from the evidence that Rahim was “going to join ISIS, an organization he loved.” He had shaved off his beard at the time and was carrying about $6,000 in cash as well as his birth certificate, she said.
Boyle cited Rahim’s own words, including references to his religion being on trial because he hadn’t yet mobilized for Jihad, or holy war. Boyle also said Rahim took credit for mobilizing others on Zello and felt that he should be rewarded for it after his death.
Rahim, sporting a thick beard, nodded to supporters in the courtroom after the hearing and repeated an Arabic phrase several times loudly as he was led out. He declined to address the judge prior to his sentencing, on his lawyer’s advice.
“Mr. Rahim embraced a warped ideology on social media, promoting violence against innocent people, including Americans,” said U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox, of the Northern District of Texas, in a prepared statement issued late Wednesday. “The Justice Department is committed to combating terror at home and abroad.”
A call to murder
The trial highlighted the novel recruitment tactics of ISIS, which revolutionized ways to join a foreign terrorist group by making it easy, flexible and informal. ISIS told its followers to use social media and internet propaganda to publicize its mission and goals, and to recruit fighters. The grassroots effort called on “independent actors” or “lone wolves” to kill wherever they lived.
Rahim was an enthusiastic follower of that method, the government argued. He didn’t just encourage people to kill, he did so with specifics, such as the use of poison, rocks, trucks, burning or even by pushing people off buildings, prosecutors said.
Rahim’s attorney, James Whalen, had argued during the trial that his client had exercised his right to free speech by sharing strongly held views on the social media app. Whalen said the government never produced any evidence that Rahim’s words incited anyone to commit murder or other acts of terrorism — or that his client committed any violence.
Whalen said Wednesday that Rahim suffered tragedy in his life, such as the torture and killing of his father by the Palestinian Authority. He said Rahim has no criminal history and that a government surveillance camera placed outside his client’s Oak Cliff store for a year turned up no illegal acts.
“It was him on a chatroom,” he said about the acts in question.
Whalen also argued unsuccessfully that using terrorism enhancements in the case is “double counting,” considering Rahim was convicted of terrorism-related charges.
The case stemmed from the FBI’s investigation of Zello, a push-to-talk direct messaging application that was being used to promote violence in ISIS’s name.
Rahim spent years on Zello’s “State of the Islamic Caliphate” channel, where he called for violence against non-believers. The channel had 10,000 users and was public, meaning anyone could listen in to hear the message. Rahim even issued his own fatwas, or religious orders based on Islamic law, prosecutors said.
“Kill and do not consult anyone,” he said in July 2016. “Kill by any means, smash his head on the wall, spit in his face, burn — I mean anything, anything – poison, anything.”
“Brothers! What are you waiting for?” he said a month later. “Mobilize and perform jihad for the cause of Allah … Some of the brothers mobilized from this channel, they were amongst us.”
Rahim also praised several terrorist attacks, including the murder of more than 80 people in France, saying “This is what will happen. A truck will go over you.”
Martin, the prosecutor, spent much of the sentencing hearing reading aloud Rahim’s own words.
“Pledge allegiance to the Islamic State and be lone wolves.”
“When will you rise up? Do not stand idle doing nothing.”
“The time to settle the account is here … there is no other choice.”
Martin said Rahim even implored a child to commit violence, saying age didn’t matter and, “If you are able to kill them, then do so.”
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