Dearborn man captured in Syria charged in terror case

Robert Snell Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Ibraheem Musaibli -- high school yearbook photo

Detroit — A Dearborn man captured on an Islamic State battlefield this month was charged in an unsealed indictment Tuesday with providing material support to the Islamic State.

The indictment, dated July 19, was unsealed five days after it was reported that Ibraheem Musaibli, 28, was taken into custody by coalition-backed forces this month while trying to flee the Middle Euphrates River Valley in northern Syria, according to the New York Times, which first reported his capture.

He is believed to be one of only two male Americans captured alive on an Islamic State battlefield and his case presents one of the first times the Trump administration is using federal courts to prosecute a returning foreign fighter.

Musaibli arrived in the Indiana on Tuesday and was transferred to face charges in U.S. District Court in Detroit, where he faces arraignment Wednesday. 

The indictment accuses Musaibli of providing support to ISIS since April 2015. ISIS is a designated foreign terrorist organization. He used several aliases, including Abu Shifa Musaibli and Abu ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Yemeni, according to the government.

"The National Security Division will not tolerate threats to our country from terrorist organizations like ISIS — not least of all those that come from our own citizens," John Demers, assistant attorney general of national security, said in a statement. "Musaibli’s alleged provision of material support to ISIS put the United States at risk and may have endangered the lives of countless innocent people. I am confident that he will face justice for his crimes, and I hope that his case sends a clear message that we will hold our citizens accountable who are apprehended overseas and tried to join a terrorist organization such as ISIS."

The portrayal is at odds with a description provided by his family. Musaibli is no terrorist but was lured by fellow Muslims into coming to Syria to study religion and work, younger brother Abdullah Musaibli said last week.

Read more: Suspected ISIS soldier tricked into joining fight, family says

On Tuesday, Abdullah Musaibli told The Detroit News he booked a flight home from New York after Ibraheem’s indictment.

“I have to come back to Michigan to support my big brother,” said Abdullah Musaibli, 26. “I’ve been in New York City for a couple of months … it’s time I see the family.”

Abdullah Musaibli said he still believes his brother is not a terrorist.

“Yes, 110 percent, I don’t just believe he’s innocent. I KNOW he’s innocent,” Abdullah Musaibli said via Facebook Messenger.

Abdullah said his brother will have a court-appointed lawyer.

"Hopefully, he or she is good.”

The Justice Department in Detroit has experience prosecuting people on terrorism-related charges. Underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was sentenced to life in federal prison for the failed Christmas Day 2009 terror attack aboard a Detroit-bound airliner, and Detroit resident Sebastian Gregerson, an Islamic State "soldier" accused of plotting violent jihad, was sentenced last year to 45 months in federal prison.

Abdulmutallab and Gregerson were represented by the Federal Defender Office, though Abdulmutallab later defended himself with assistance from a court-appointed attorney.

"The indictment alleges that, for a substantial period of time, defendant Musaibli provided material support to ISIS — one of the most violent terrorist organizations in the world. During that same time, American-backed coalition forces were fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria," U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said. “We will vigorously prosecute anyone who provides, or even attempts to provide, support to terrorists.”

Relatives, public records and legal experts helped establish a narrative timeline of Ibraheem Musaibli's final months in the United States and, according to his family, attempts to escape an Islamic State prison with help from the FBI. 

Ibraheem Musaibli was raised in Dearborn. An Edsel Ford High School dropout, Musaibli helped his father operate a perfume shop in Detroit and had no contact with police besides a few minor traffic incidents, according to the Dearborn Police. 

Eventually, he got married, fathered a son and moved to the port city of Aden, Yemen.

While in Yemen, Ibraheem Musaibli started talking with fellow Muslims, his brother said, who lured him to Syria in 2015. 

Ibraheem Musaibli did not watch online sermons by radical Islamic clerics or seek out Islamic State contacts, his brother said.

At some point, Musaibli traveled to Syria. There were few details included in the indictment Tuesday that would describe how and when he traveled to the war-torn country.

Ibraheem’s father, Izzy Musaibli, told The News late Friday the FBI has been working to help his son escape from an Islamic State prison.

"He's not a fighter, he's been working with the FBI to escape ISIS and after the last time he tried to escape, (ISIS) burned his passport," Izzy Musaibli said. "The FBI knows he's not a fighter and he's only been doing small work there for food to survive."

Izzy Musaibli said the family had brief contact with Ibraheem while he was stuck in Syria, trapped because the militants thought Ibraheem was a spy.

"(ISIS) doesn't represent Islam, they have a totally different ideology, and Ibraheem was preaching against them," he said. "Every time he tried to escape, he was put back in prison, and we've been working with the FBI as a team."

(313) 222-2486

Twitter: @robertsnellnews