A five-count indictment was unsealed in United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York charging Marcos Alonso Zea, also known as “Ali Zea,” an American citizen and resident of Brentwood, New York, with conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, attempting to provide material support to terrorists, attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, also known as Ansar al-Sharia (AQAP/AAS), and obstruction and attempted obstruction of justice. Zea was arrested earlier this morning at his home on Long Island and is scheduled to be arraigned later today before United States Magistrate Judge Arlene Lindsay at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, New York.
The charges were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; John Carlin, Acting Assistant Attorney General, National Security Division; George Venizelos, Assistant Director in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), New York Field Office; and Raymond W. Kelly, Commissioner, New York City Police Department (NYPD).
As set forth in the indictment and other court filings, beginning in the fall of 2011, Zea conspired with others to travel overseas in order to wage violent jihad on the perceived enemies of Islam, which included the secular government in Yemen. In furtherance of the conspiracy, on January 4, 2012, Zea flew from John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) in Queens, New York, to London, England, en route to Yemen in an attempt to join and fight alongside members of AQAP/AAS, a designated foreign terrorist organization that has claimed responsibility for several terrorist attacks against the United States, including the attempted Christmas Day 2009 bombing of a Detroit-bound passenger plane.
As set forth in the indictment and other court filings, Zea was intercepted by customs officials in the United Kingdom (UK) in transit to Yemen and returned to the United States. Despite being prevented from traveling to Yemen, Zea continued his participation in the terrorist conspiracy. Specifically, Zea encouraged and supported his co-conspirator, Justin Kaliebe, who also was plotting to travel to Yemen to fight jihad. In August 2012, in a covertly recorded conversation between Zea and Kaliebe, Zea bragged about his lies to UK authorities when he was detained, instructed Kaliebe regarding methods to evade electronic surveillance by law enforcement authorities, and discussed Kaliebe’s plans to fight jihad. On January 21, 2013, Kaliebe attempted to travel from New York to Yemen for the purpose of joining AQAP/AAS but was arrested at JFK by members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and the NYPD’s Intelligence Division. (Kaliebe subsequently pled guilty to one count of attempting to provide material support to terrorists and one count of attempting to provide material support to AQAP/AAS. Kaliebe is scheduled to be sentenced on December 6, 2013, by United States District Judge Arthur D. Spatt in United States District Court in Central Islip.) Several days before Kaliebe attempted to travel to Yemen to join AQAQ/AAS, Zea gave Kaliebe money to support his trip. During this meeting, which was covertly recorded, Zea stated, “I just hope, my story, my, the event that happened to me will help you guys move forward, inspire you.”
In April 2013, after learning that he was under investigation by the JTTF, Zea directed an associate to erase the hard drive on Zea’s home computer and provided the associate two additional hard drives that Zea had used previously, which he also requested be destroyed. Despite Zea’s efforts to thwart the investigation, the JTTF obtained the hard drives and conducted a forensic examination, which revealed an assortment of violent Islamic extremist materials. For example, the drives contained issues of Inspire magazine, an AQAP/AAS publication that promotes violent jihad, containing articles such as “Which is Better: Martyrdom or Victory?” “Why did I choose al Qaeda?” “What to Expect in Jihad?” and an interview with “Shaykh Abu Hurairah, The Military Commander of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.” The electronic media also included a video, disseminated by the propaganda wing of al Qaeda in Iraq, depicting the detonation of an explosive device on a vehicle carrying western military personnel. In addition, investigators recovered a semi-automatic rifle that Zea had given to an acquaintance shortly before he departed for Yemen.
“Despite being born and raised in the United States, Zea allegedly betrayed his country and attempted to travel to Yemen in order to join a terrorist organization and commit murder,” stated U.S. Attorney Lynch. “When that plan was thwarted, Zea continued to support terrorism by assisting his co-conspirator’s efforts to travel to Yemen to fight violent jihad. When the defendant sensed investigators from the JTTF closing in, he engaged in a desperate effort to cover his tracks by attempting to destroy evidence—a tactic that only confirmed his violent aims. This case clearly demonstrates how the FBI and the NYPD, along with their partners on the JTTF and overseas, work diligently and effectively to counter the efforts of al Qaeda’s affiliates and their supporters.” Ms. Lynch also expressed her grateful appreciation to the FBI, NYPD, Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Nassau County Police Department, the Suffolk County Police Department, the New York State Police, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department for their work on the investigation.
FBI Assistant Director in Charge Venizelos stated, “Inspired by terrorist propaganda, Mr. Zea allegedly traveled abroad in 2012 in a vain attempt to reach Yemen, join al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and fight violent jihad. When his attempt failed, Zea turned to financing and inspiring another Long Island man’s commitment to global terror. And when Zea learned he was under investigation, he feverishly attempted to destroy the incriminating evidence.”
NYPD Commissioner Kelly stated, “Aspirants with lethal intent who seek terror training abroad are of paramount concern. Fortunately, like Kaliebe before him, Zea was stopped due to the close cooperation between the NYPD and FBI.”
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Seth D. DuCharme, John J. Durham, and Michael P. Canty, with assistance provided by Trial Attorney Kelli Andrews of the Counterterrorism Section of the Department of Justice.
The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
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