Friday, December 18, 2009

Terrorism: The Jihadists of Georgia, Part 2

FBI - It was a tip from a foreign intelligence partner that set the case in motion.

In the summer of 2005, we learned that a central player in a terrorism investigation in another country was in e-mail contact with someone in the Atlanta area.

With appropriate court orders, our Joint Terrorism Task Force in Atlanta quickly tracked down who that person was. It was a 19-year-old American named Ehsanul Sadequee, who was also exchanging regular e-mails, we discovered, with a 20-year-old Georgia Tech student named Syed Haris Ahmed.

Initially, our investigation—code-named “Northern Exposure”—was focused on finding out what the two young men were up to and why Sadequee was trading e-mails with a terrorism suspect. We began both electronic and physical surveillance on each one and began tracking their financial and travel patterns with the help of partner agencies in the U.S.

We soon uncovered two key facts. One, both Sadequee and Ahmed were in touch with terrorist suspects in nearly a dozen nations around the world. And two, a great deal of this contact was via the Internet.

With our new post-9/11 intelligence-driven mindset, the last thing we wanted to do at that point was to rush in and make arrests. It was far more important to tease out information on all the players who might be connected to Sadequee and Ahmed, to paint a larger picture of this online and offline network of extremists, and to share that information with our national and international colleagues.

As discussed in part one of our story, our investigation revealed that Sadequee and Ahmed ended up casing U.S. targets, supporting and sharing information with terrorists around the globe, and traveling overseas to act on their desire to wage violent jihad. Some of our intelligence came from our overseas partners, who discovered links from their terrorism suspects to Sadequee and Ahmed. And the FBI shared its intelligence on terror suspects uncovered during our investigation of the two Atlanta extremists.

In March 2006, we approached Ahmed to see if he would cooperate in the case. Though he tried to deny his illegal activities, Ahmed made incriminating statements and secretly contacted Sadequee to warn him of our investigation. We arrested Ahmed soon after, and Sadequee was arrested in Bangladesh the following month. Both were convicted in separate trials this year, and sentenced on December 14.

A satisfying end to the case, but this investigation had a far broader and more significant outcome: thanks to unprecedented global cooperation, governments in nearly a dozen nations have arrested more than 40 individuals and disrupted an untold number of terror plots.

“Sadequee and Ahmed never pulled a trigger or set off a bomb, but they were making plans and working with known terrorists worldwide,” says Atlanta Special Agent in Charge Gregory Jones. “By using an intel-driven approach, we not only stopped these guys from doing harm, we took out a larger web of extremists.”

In the end, a network of terrorists was brought down by another network: a determined group of law enforcement and intelligence agencies from around the world working in unison to share information, compare evidence, and disrupt terrorist plots.

See Part one: Terrorism: Path to Terror - from extremist wannabes to trusted brothers of terrorist operatives across the globe

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