An Iraqi refugee who is facing charges that he tried to help ISIS wanted to set off bombs at two Houston malls and was learning to make electronic transmitters that could be used to detonate explosive devices, a federal agent testified Wednesday.
Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, who came to Houston from Iraq in 2009, was indicted last week on three charges, including attempting to provide support to a designated terrorist organization. He pleaded not guilty to all three charges during a court appearance on Wednesday, yet he was denied a bond due to “serious risk” if released from federal custody.
Homeland Security Special Agent Herman Wittliff said that in addition to Al Hardan wanting to set off bombs at the two Houston malls — including the popular Galleria mall — the Iraqi man was also learning how to make electronic transmitters that could be used to detonate improvised explosive devices.
Al Hardan wanted use cellphones – a collection of which were found in his apartment – to detonate the transmitters, Wittliff said.
Wittliff explained that Al Hardan wanted to build the transmitters for ISIS “so he could kill people.”
Al Hardan’s older brother, Saeed Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, has said his sibling has denied any wrongdoing and that neither his brother nor anybody in their family had ever expressed any support for the Islamic State terror group.
Prosecutors allege Al Hardan was coordinating efforts with another Iraqi refugee living in California, Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab. The two men communicated through Facebook messenger from April 2013 to October 2014 and talked about getting weapons training and eventually sneaking into Syria to fight alongside ISIS, Wittliff said.
The agent also testified Al Hardan received training on how to use an AK-47 assault rifle in November 2014 on a farm outside Houston from a confidential informant who was working with federal authorities.
During the hearing, Wittliff read aloud excerpts from a conversation that authorities had recorded between Al Hardan and his wife in October 2014. Prosecutors did not say how the recording was obtained.
“Once I get the passport I will leave America, I will leave. I will make a widow of you,” Al Hardan said to his wife, according to the excerpt read in court. “I will go to Syria. I am not wacko. I am not wacko. I am speaking the truth. I want to blow myself up. I want to blow myself up … I am against America.”
Wittliff also testified authorities had a photograph showing Al Hardan had taken an oath on a Quran to the Islamic State and that in the closet of his bedroom, agents found an Islamic State flag and a prayer to do list in which he spoke about receiving strength to be able to commit jihad and becoming a martyr.
Defense attorney David Adler suggested during questioning of Wittliff that there was nothing illegal about Al Hardan having the electronic components or old cellphones that FBI agents found in his apartment.
Adler also suggested that the firearms training Al Hardan allegedly received from the informant was about “two guys shooting a gun.” He added that the conversation that authorities recorded between Al Hardan and his wife could have been a domestic argument and that while Al Hardan said he was against America, he didn’t say “I’m going to bomb America.”
If convicted, Al Hardan faces up to 25 years in prison.
Al Hardan, who is a legal permanent resident, is married, has an 8-month-old son and had worked as a limousine driver before his arrest, according to his brother.
Al-Jayab remains jailed in Sacramento, California. Authorities say Al-Jayab fought twice in Syria, including with a group later affiliated with ISIS between November 2013 and January 2014.
H/T Associated Press