No matter how many disclaimers you put in your Twitter bio about retweets, favorites and endorsements, the FBI will prosecute those who retweet Twitter accounts associated with the Islamic State (ISIS), and use it as evidence of trying to join the decentralized international organization linked to multiple beheadings, kidnappings, bombings, murders, and destruction of priceless property.
FBI agents with the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested 22-year-old Ali Saleh Thursday for “knowingly and willfully” providing resources and material support to the Islamic State for over a year, according to a complaint filed with the United States District Court Eastern District of New York.
Saleh, an American citizen and Queens, New York resident, retweeted another Twitter user’s statement that read “I’m ready to die for the Caliphate…prison is nothing.” The Caliphate is a frequently used name for ISIS supporters online, the complaint stated.
Saleh claimed to have family ties in Yemen and was unsuccessful in his attempts to fly there and to Istanbul, a known transfer point to regions where ISIS is active.
On the same day he booked a flight to Istanbul, Saleh retweeted another message, “Lets be clear the Muslims in the khilafah [Arabic for caliphate or ISIS] need help, the one who is capable to go over and help the Muslims must go and help.”
In a June tweet from another account, Saleh said his last will and testament should he die before migrating was to be buried in Syria.
Saleh’s arrest underscores law enforcement’s increasing reliance on social media to weed out criminal activity. Along with concerns the group is recruiting Americans, the U.S. has been criticized for losing the war on the ISIS largely because of the group’s decentralized structure and social media savvy.
While social media activity has successfully been used to corroborate or prevent crime, law enforcement has had a shaky relationship with online activity, struggling to differentiate credible threats from protected speech.
The New York Police Department, which is part of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, ramped up social media surveillance last year to identify and stop lone wolf terrorists, but has also been steeped in controversy when it comes to its counterterrorism tactics.
Aside from its controversial stop-and-frisk policy that targeted people of color, the NYPD previously had a secret unit used to surveil Muslims in the greater New York City area through eavesdropping, tracking mosques, and infiltrating student groups. The program was unsuccessful and dismantled after public concern grew over civil liberties violations.