US intelligence agents laid a cyber trail all the way to a fake terror camp in Pakistan, mastered idioms and style of Islamic terrorists giving a convincing portrayal of jihadis in a bid to infiltrate a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) recruitment ring.
In what seemed to read like a spy-thriller their strategy led to the arrest of an American teenager, who was at the centre of an alleged conspiracy to recruit fighters for the Pakistan-based LeT, and a suspected co-conspirator, who was stopped on his way to join the terrorist group.
The transcripts of their cyber interactions in court documents give chilling insights into the raging hate of the world of jihadis.
The cases against the two, who were arrested, point to a disturbing trend that with the collapse of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, Pakistan-based terror organisations operating against India may become an attractive alternative for aspiring jihadis.
Michael Kyle Sewell, the teenaged recruiter, told Jesus Wilfredo Encarnacion, 29, whom he was guiding that “he should not join the IS because IS had no territory”, instead he suggested the “LeT and the Taliban” as “worth joining”.
The “LeT was a well-funded group in Pakistan operating in Kashmir, Afghanistan and India”, is what he said according to court filings.
Both men were arrested in February and now face trial on terrorism-related charges.
Documents filed in federal courts in two separate cases, one against Sewell in Dallas, and another against Encarnacion in New York, include expletive-filled accounts of interactions between the alleged terrorists and the undercover operatives that give a peek into terrorism networks.
The two cases deal separately with each of the accused and the documents mention the person in the other case only as a “co-conspirator”, but when IANS put the two affidavits by FBI agents in the two cases side-by-side, the parallels make the link between Sewell and Encarnacion obvious.
To infiltrate the group, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) operatives, an agent and an employee, took on the persona of jihadists, adopting their terminology and way of communicating, and one of them created a fake trail into Pakistan as if he had joined the LeT there, according to transcripts in an affidavit by counter-terrorism Special Agent Seth Yockel in the New York case.
The document says that the ring they infilitrated was made up of nine people who operated through “a group chat for American Jihadis” on social media.
The FBI agent and the “undercover employee” vouched for each other convincingly in their communications and Sewell told Encarnacion that the employee would help him travel to Pakistan to get terrorist training, according to the affidavit.
At one point, according to the transcripts of interactions, the FBI employee takes a swipe at President Donald Trump to build their terrorist credentials writing, “US all infidels. With the king Trump.”
He also boasts, “We strike heart of India. … You hear Mumbai attack”? – a reference to the 2008 attack that killed 163 people.
The transcripts don’t reveal much about the lives of Sewell and Encarnacion, other than that Encarnacion lived in New York’s Washington Heights neighbourhood and said he was from a family from the Dominican Republic, and Sewell was a native-born American.
Sewell’s lawyer, a court-appointed public defender, did not return a call from IANS.
Forensic scientist Malini Subramanyam wrote in the Forensic Research and Criminology International Journal in 2018 that some, who become terrorists were “in search of an identity … seeking a sense of purpose and self-worth.”
The two seem to fit this profile. Encarnacion, who used the screen name “Jihadistsoldgier”, introduced himself to the jihadi group saying, “I want to fight till death alongside the Islamic State. … I’m a lone wolf looking for a family I can strike the crusaders. … I want to be part of a family willing to kill not afraid of death”, according to Yockel’s affidavit.
Sewell also described himself to the undercover employee as “lone wolf and lone lion of Tawhid”.
An indication of one of Encarnacion’s other possible motives appears at one point in the transcript where Encarnacion says, “Kuffar treat me bad”, but does not further identify the “Kuffar” or what they did.
Encarnacion appears to have been inspired by the British IS terrorist Mohammed Emwazi who became notorious with the nickname “Jihadi John” as the group’s executioner on propaganda videos. “Please. I want to kill on video. Terrify our enemies”, he pleaded.
The transcripts of interactions portray Sewell and Encarnacion as blood-thirsty persons motivated by blind hatred, not only against Hindus, but also moderate Muslims.
In November last year, Encarnacion wrote to the undercover employee, “You guys are against India. I read up on ya. You are beefing with India over Muslim land.
“I (expletive) hate Hindus. They can go to hell and I’m going to help you,” according to the document. He added, “Will I live in Pakistan? I want to fight. I want to execute. I want to behead”.
Sewell goaded the FBI undercover employee “to ‘[expelitive] up’ and ‘slaughter’ the ‘Hindu Kafir’, destroy their shrines and idols”, and send him photos of the destruction, according to an affidavit by Special Agent Michael Phillipp in the Dallas case.
He is quoted as saying that he could “kill anyone and not feel anything” and wanted to kill “liberal Muslims”, liberal “Hijabis” and Saudis, “execute” a female political activist, who was not identified, and threatened to “disembowel” a social media user.
Sewell, according to the New York affidavit, put Encarnacion in touch with the undercover employee, who, he said, would lead him to the LeT, and simultaneously messaged him that he found a “new brother who wants to go do jihad Fisimbillah … So he will be a Lashker-e-Taiba fighter”.
Encarnacion contacted the undercover employee, who verified the contact with Sewell, and sent him hundreds of messages.
In October, the undercover agent messaged Sewell through an encrypted application that he was “flying out tonight inshaAllah”. And when Sewell asked him the next day, where he was, he replied, “Alhamdulillah Pakistan … InshaAllah I will be training with the mujahideen of Lashkar-e-Taiba soon”.
Now appearing to be ensconced in Pakistan, the undercover agent told Encarnacion in November to fly to a city in Europe for which he would not need a visa and “brothers” would meet him there and give him visa and onward ticket to Pakistan.
Encarnacion sent him copies of his passport and flight confirmation for Europe on a flight on February 7.
When he came to New York’s JFK airport to catch the flight, the FBI was waiting to capture him.
The next day, officials announced the arrest of Sewell in Dallas.