NEW YORK — A Manhattan man has been arrested for seeking to join the barbaric Islamic group ISIS and allegedly expressing support for a plot to carry out an attack in Times Square.
Mohamed Rafik Naji, 37, was arrested on Monday and charged with attempting to provide material support to the terror group.
According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice, Naji has been posting material favorable to ISIS on social media for the past two years.
“[His] cover photograph depicts two circles: one contains a collage of the flags of various countries and the other contains an image of the black ISIL flag. Two arrows are below the circles, with one pointing in the direction of the ISIL image and the other pointing in the direction of world flags,” the filed criminal complaint outlined.
In 2015, Naji traveled to various countries, including Turkey and Yemen. in an effort to join the group, stating on social media “I belong to [the] Islamic State only.” However, he experienced difficulty entering areas controlled by ISIS.
“It’s very hard to get in,” he reportedly wrote to his girlfriend in one instance. “I’m on my 5 [sic] try. It’s difficult mad. Po po (police), military and ppl here very scared.”
Naji is also accused of discussing with a “confidential human source” his idea to drive a truck through the crowds in Times Square—mimicking an attack similar to July’s assault in Nice, France.
“I was saying if there is a truck—I mean a garbage truck—and one drives it there to Times Square and crushes them shshshshshsh … Times Square Day,” he told the source.
“Times Square,” they replied.
“They want an operation in Times Square,” Naji advised. “Reconnaissance group already put out a scene, the Islamic State already put up scenes of Times Square, you understand. I was saying that was an indication for whoever is smart to know.”
“As alleged, the defendant expressed a devotion to join ISIL through both conversation and social media, traveling to Yemen in an effort to join their ranks,” James O’Neill, commissioner of the New York City Police Department said in a statement. “Detectives and agents on the Joint Terrorism Task Force uncovered the alleged terrorist objectives of the defendant. I want to commend their work in continually protecting New York City, and our nation, from those who seek to harm us.”
Naji’s attorney, Susan Kellman, maintains he is innocent.
“According to the complaint, he traveled overseas to Yemen, which you know, is immediately suspect in the view of our government,” she told CBS New York. “Of course, the fact that he has family over there and three children didn’t seem to affect the government one way or the other, but he certainly had legitimate reasons to be over there.”