FBI finds link between Detroit man, al-Qaida recruiter
Detroit — FBI counterterrorism agents have uncovered a link between Sebastian Gregerson, the American Muslim arrested Sunday after he allegedly bought illegal grenades, and an al-Qaida leader who radicalized underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, The News learned Friday.
When FBI agents raided Gregerson’s home on the west side of Detroit on Sunday, they found several CDs marked “Anwar al-Awlaki,” the al-Qaida recruiter who met with Abdulmutallab before the failed Christmas Day 2009 terror attack on a Detroit-bound plane, according to sealed search warrant records obtained by The News.
The CDs are listed among dozens of items seized Sunday, including seven rifles, two AK-47 assault rifles, a shotgun, handguns, thousands of rounds of ammunition, computer equipment and cellphones, according to a sealed search warrant inventory.
The contents of the al-Awlaki CDs are unclear, but the late, radical U.S.-born cleric was known for Internet sermons that helped inspire attacks on the U.S. Abdulmutallab spent hours listening to al-Awlaki’s video clips posted online, FBI Special Agent Timothy Waters testified in 2011.
“When you look through most of the cases of individuals who get arrested for terrorism charges, the vast majority had al-Awlaki on their laptops,” said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.
The cleric’s early sermons were more innocuous, Hughes said.
If the FBI found latter-day al-Awlaki sermons, “that is a red flag that would go off for me,” Hughes said. “Maybe (Gregerson) had the early, innocuous Awlaki stuff, but I doubt the FBI would put that in the search warrant if they weren’t looking at this from a terrorism lens.”
Gregerson’s court-appointed lawyer, David Tholen, could not be reached for comment Friday.
The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office would not discuss the contents of the CDs.
This is the second time in recent months that al-Awlaki has been linked to a southeast Michigan man at the center of an FBI investigation.
In June, The News revealed that FBI agents were hunting for a suburban Flint medical school graduate who had fled to Syria and was believed to be working as a doctor for Islamic State extremists.
Sealed federal court records involving 24-year-old Flushing native Mohamed Maleeh Masha revealed an international search stretching from the battlefields of war-torn Syria to downtown Flint.
In June 2015, Masha posted on Facebook a quote from al-Awlaki, who was killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.
In Gregerson’s case, the FBI searched the Detroit man’s home in the 8300-block of Schaefer Highway south of Joy Road, after he allegedly bought five illegal fragmentation grenades from an undercover agent.
Along with seizing weapons, FBI agents confiscated several laptop computers, phones, a computer tablet, a hard drive, floppy disks and a thumb drive inside an “Islamic Secret of Baltimore” envelope, according to the search warrant inventory.
The search warrant, which would list probable cause justifying the search of Gregerson’s home and 1999 Dodge Neon and list the type of items sought by the FBI, remains sealed.
FBI agents likely are analyzing the computer equipment to determine if there are any links to terror, Hughes said.
Agents also searched Gregerson’s car Sunday and found the fragmentation grenades, smoke grenades, pistols, a two-way radio ammunition and a Michigan concealed pistol license, according to the sealed search warrant inventory.
Gregerson, 29, aka Abdurrahman Bin Mikaayl, is a gun enthusiast, hunter and survivalist who has no criminal record, his lawyer said during a court hearing Thursday.
The weapons were purchased legally, his lawyer said.
Gregerson has not been charged with a terror-related crime, though federal prosecutors have filed a sealed document that “goes way beyond” allegations of purchasing a destructive device and receiving explosive materials, his lawyer said during a court hearing Thursday.
The grenade purchase capped a 16-month investigation during which Gregerson amassed an arsenal of weapons and talked about carrying out an unspecified attack, according to court records.
“These are preparations for some violent acts,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Cathleen Corken said Thursday.
Gregerson is being held without bond pending trial. He faces up to 10 years in federal prison if convicted of unregistered possession of a destructive device and unlicensed receipt of explosive materials.