Federal counter-terrorism agents swept down on homes and businesses in Seattle yesterday, conducting searches and charging 13 men with gun, immigration and bank-fraud violations.
The FBI said it searched 19 Seattle-area homes, businesses and vehicles. Federal agents detained five other people on immigration charges, said FBI Special Agent Robbie Burroughs.
None of the men targeted in the raids is accused under terrorism statutes. However, the federal charges unsealed yesterday allege the ringleader of the bank-fraud case told a paid FBI informant that his “whole Muslim crew” was involved in stealing money because “you can’t go to war broke.”
According to the complaint, the purported ringleader, a drug felon named Karim Abdullah Assalaam, told an acquaintance that the money obtained through the fraud “goes to help our Muslim brothers and sisters. . . It goes to the cause, not like it goes to me and you.”
However, the complaint alleges that his half-brother, Attawwaab Muhammad Fard, who is also charged, used some of the money to buy a used Lexus. “There was a lot of jihad talk,” said one highly placed federal law-enforcement official familiar with the case. “But most of the money went into their pockets.”
Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney John McKay, said the cases aren’t connected, but they sprang from a single investigation that court documents show began nearly three years ago with Seattle’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
The federal source said the cases share some of the same paid confidential informants.
The defendants appeared yesterday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Monica Benton, who ordered them held without bail pending detention hearings next week.
The bank-fraud scheme involved depositing forged checks into bank accounts and then withdrawing the money through automatic-teller machines before the fraud was discovered. Tens of thousands of dollars were stolen, according to the court documents.
Several gun-related cases also sprang from the investigation. Assalaam and four other men were charged as felons possessing firearms, including several handguns, two shotguns and an AK-47 assault rifle.
In one instance, federal agents had reported “unusual activity” at a shooting range in Renton involving one of the men apparently teaching a group of individuals how to shoot.
In a related case in King County Superior Court, prosecutors in October filed assault and extortion charges against some individuals associated with an Islamic religious school run out of a South Seattle barbershop. The school was “training children . . . in Anti American rhetoric,” and “how to shoot and fight the Americans,” according to court documents.
The owner of a restaurant downstairs from the Crescent Cuts barbershop on Rainier Avenue South told police that he had been asked to participate in the bank-fraud scheme. When he refused, he said, he was assaulted by a group of individuals and beaten with a meat tenderizer.
He described the school in court documents as “an anti-American training ground for Muslims.”
Bishir Hussein, who runs the Janaale Restaurant, said yesterday that the barbershop had been in operation about eight months. He pointed to scars on his face from the beating he received from an employee or patron of the barbershop a few months ago.
“They were always talking anti-American this and anti-American that,” said Hussein. “They would talk about jihad. They were scary.”
The barbershop consists of three tattered old chairs on the second floor of a converted house. There were scattered books, including “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” a cardboard “donation box” and a photograph of Mecca. The walls in an adjacent bedroom were adorned with torn magazine pages of blond supermodels.
Another set of charges related to an alleged scheme to help immigrants from The Gambia win asylum in the United States through the use of forged immigration papers. Five men, including Bubacarr Tunkara, the owner of Gambia International, a Seattle retail store catering to Muslims, were indicted on those charges.
According to an indictment, Tunkara and others would provide forged passports and identity papers and passports from Sierra Leone to Gambian immigrants. The immigrants would then apply for asylum.
“Because of the human-rights conditions in Sierra Leone, an African country torn by civil war, applicants for asylum from that country were viewed more favorably than applicants from other African nations with less strife, such as The Gambia,” the indictment explained.