NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City man rejected twice trying to enter the United Kingdom after his camouflage clothing, nunchakus and Islamic State flag images on his cellphone raised suspicions was arrested Tuesday on charges that he tried to assist the terrorism group.
Sajmir Alimehmeti, 22, of the Bronx, was awaiting an initial appearance in Manhattan federal court. A criminal complaint signed by an FBI agent described Alimehmeti as repeatedly demonstrating support for the Islamic State since 2014.
It was not immediately known who would represent him at an initial appearance in Manhattan federal court.
According to court papers, Alimehmeti tried this month to provide advice and assistance to a person he thought was traveling from New York to Syria to train and fight with the Islamic State.
The FBI complaint described how employees of the agency and the New York City Police Department gave Alimehmeti numerous opportunities to demonstrate his enthusiasm for the Islamic State after authorities in the United Kingdom ordered him twice returned to the United States in the fall of 2014.
The court papers said he was wearing camouflage pants and shirts and carrying nunchakus in his luggage when he arrived at Manchester Airport in October 2014, and he was denied entry at Heathrow Airport two months later when authorities spotted images of Islamic State flags and bombing attacks on his cellphone and laptop computer.
Alerted by UK authorities, the FBI went to work, introducing Alimehmeti to undercover law enforcement agents who posed as Islamic State recruits interested in traveling to Syria, according to court papers.
The FBI said Alimehmeti helped the undercover law enforcement operatives buy equipment necessary in land controlled by the Islamic State. It also said Alimehmeti repeatedly expressed his desire to help the terrorist group, even claiming that music videos including one depicting its fighters decapitating prisoners kept him motivated while he exercised.
According to the court papers, Alimehmeti was told that one of his undercover law enforcement contacts was going to join the Islamic State and Alimehmeti "expressed his excitement at this and inquired whether he could travel," as well.
The FBI said Alimehmeti told the law enforcement operatives that he had saved $2,500 for his own travel but needed to get a passport in a different name because his name was "already in the system."
The court papers said Alimehmeti told the undercover contacts he and his brother "had our own plan" to travel from Albania to Syria but that his brother had been arrested in Albania.
In a footnote, the FBI said in court papers that Alimehmeti's brother was arrested on weapons and assault charges in Albania last August.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement on the arrest.
"The arrest of Sajmir Alimehmeti in the Bronx today is another example of the continuing threat posed by global terrorist groups like ISIL. These threats can impact any community in our state, as we saw last December with the arrest of a Rochester resident for attempting to support ISIL as well.
"As Governor, I want to assure all New Yorkers that we are doing everything in our power to keep our state safe, and will continue to remain in constant communication with our federal and local law enforcement partners. While law enforcement is working aggressively to conduct investigations like those that led to the arrest of Sajmir Alimehmeti, the public is reminded to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity.
"I commend the hardworking professionals in the Department of Justice, as well as the FBI’s New York City area Joint Terrorism Task Force, including the New York State Police and the NYPD, for their exceptional work in preventing any possible attack."