An Iraqi national living in Canada was indicted in New York on Friday on charges that he helped run a secret network that sent potential suicide bombers from Tunisia to Iraq to target US military forces.
Faruq Khalil Muhammad Isa was charged with aiding in the murder of five American soldiers who died in an April 2009 truck bomb attack near Mosul, Iraq.
The seven-count indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in Brooklyn, also charges him with conspiring to kill Americans abroad and providing material support to a terror conspiracy.
Mr. Isa, 38, has dual Iraqi and Canadian citizenship. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
He has been in custody in Canada since January and is awaiting extradition to the US to stand trial. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 30 to Feb. 1.
The case offers a glimpse into the murky world of Iraqi resistance fighters who allegedly trolled Arab countries for young, impressionable Muslims willing to give their lives for a promise of Islamic martyrdom.
It also offers insight into the extensive reach of US and allied intelligence and law enforcement officials in the global war on terror. According to court documents, the investigation began in 2009 and included US, Canadian, and Tunisian investigators.
Officials in Canada installed court-approved wiretaps and monitored Isa’s telephone, computer, Internet, and e-mail accounts. What they discovered was a group of would-be holy warriors who allegedly encouraged others to travel to Iraq to kill American soldiers.
On March 31, 2009, two of the four Tunisians allegedly carried out a suicide truck bomb attack at an Iraqi police station in Mosul. Seven individuals died and 17 were wounded, documents say.
Two days later, the brother of one of the suicide bombers received a phone call in Tunisia. The caller said the brother had been “martyred in combat with the Americans in Mosul.” The caller reportedly repeated the statement three times and then said: “May God witness what I say. God is great. You will not be receiving any more calls.”
The attack on US forces came less than two weeks later on April 10, 2009. It happened at a US outpost near Mosul as a five-vehicle military convoy was leaving the base.
A large dump truck accelerated toward the gate, drawing gunfire from Iraqi guards. The dump truck continued through the checkpoint, passing four of the US military vehicles, but then detonated next to the fifth vehicle.
The blast left a crater 60 feet deep, documents say.
Killed in the attack were: Staff Sgt. Gary Woods, 24, of Lebanon Junction, Ky.; Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Hall, 32, of Elk Grove , Calif.; Sgt. Edward Forrest Jr., 25, of St. Louis; Cpl. Jason Pautsch, 20, of Davenport, Iowa; and Pfc. Bryce Gaultier, 22, of Cyprus, Calif.
A day after the attack, Isa, in Canada, had an electronic conversation with a member of the network in Iraq, according to court documents.
Isa: “Did you hear about the huge incident yesterday? Is it known?”
Network member: “Yes.”
Isa: “He was one of the Tunisian brothers.”
Network member: “Praise God. May God acknowledge him.”
The suicide bomber’s father in Tunisia told authorities that his son had left Tunisia in October 2008. He said on April 3, 2009 – a week before the bomb attack – he received a text message stating that his son was in Iraq.
Shortly after the attack, the father said he received a telephone call from someone with an Iraqi accent. “Your son … is dead,” the caller said.
The fourth member of the Tunisia contingent of would-be suicide bombers was arrested in Mosul before he carried out any attack.
In March 2009, the network arranged for four more Tunisians to travel to Iraq.
During preparation to leave, one of the would-be fighters asked Isa what he should tell his family. “Should I leave a will with them,” he asked.
“No, I don’t recommend this,” Isa said, according to court documents. “This will cause them to suffer after you.”
Isa told the young man that he should delete everything from his computer. “Don’t leave one character of information or anything behind. Don’t leave any of your belongings in the house. Don’t leave any trace.”
The recruit asked: “What else?”
“Do not forget to keep reading [the] Koran and repeat the famous prayers on the way until you meet with God.”
The recruit still had worries. “The family is the main problem, particularly my mother,” he reportedly told Isa. “I am so concerned about … the shock.”
Isa told him that what they were about to do was a duty that they faced.
The recruit responded: “May God give you 74 to marry. We want the virgins of paradise, not the ones here.”
Isa responded: “You come short, brother. God is more generous than that. It’s supposed to be 76 instead.”
Investigators say the network used the terms “marriage” and “marriage to 70 virgins” as code for suicide operations. A Muslim who dies a martyr defending Islam is believed to be rewarded in heaven with a large number of virgin wives.
Court documents say the group also used the term “farming” as code for terrorist attacks.
At one point, Isa reportedly revealed his interest in traveling to Iraq to personally join the fight against the US.
In one monitored conversation Isa reportedly used code to convey his interest in obtaining a sniper rifle with telescope and silencer to use against US troops. He referred to it as a “mute bride with a crown.”
Isa: “Listen can’t you find me a bride.”
Network member: “Yes. How do you want her? To be a talker or a mute?”
Isa: “I want her to be mute, and to have a lot of children, I want a lot of children.”
Network member: “There are plenty available over here.”
Isa allegedly pledged his loyalty to Iraqi insurgents and asked that he be allowed to travel to Iraq to engage in operations against US forces.
At one point, Isa advises an Iraq-based associate to avoid using the names of network members. “Try to avoid using names,” he said, according to court documents. “They monitor your IP address, and know when you enter the brothers’ website, and especially in your country.”
He added: “For example when I want to name the brothers, I say the farmers … because they plant metal and harvest metal and flesh.”