Convicted ISIS fighter testifies against Dearborn man in terror case
Detroit — A one-armed Islamic State soldier testified Monday he served alongside a Dearborn man accused of fighting on behalf of the terrorist organization, an unprecedented admission in federal court during the war on terror.
Minnesota resident Abdelhamid Al-Madioum testified during a dramatic, virtual faceoff in federal court in Detroit involving two Americans who prosecutors say fled the country to wage jihad on behalf of a terrorist organization. During more than two hours of testimony, Al-Madioum, 24, said that he met Ibraheem Musaibli four times while both served in the Tariq bin Ziyad brigade, which was filled with foreign fighters — including Americans — who served in war zones in Iraq and Syria.
Al-Madioum was the government's star witness Monday during a fight over evidence gathered by FBI counterterrorism investigators. He testified about maintaining an ISIS database while in Mosul in northern Iraq in 2016. The roster contained names of brigade members, including Musaibli, 31, who was captured three years ago on a Syrian battlefield and brought back to the U.S.
He was among several witnesses who vouched for the authenticity of roster of fighters, payroll and hospital records that included Musaibli’s alias and ISIS number, evidence prosecutors want to use to secure a conviction in a rare terrorism case involving an American accused of fighting overseas for ISIS.
Al-Madioum, a community college computer science dropout who maintained an ISIS roster database after losing most of his right arm in a battle, was shown one document that contained distinctive splotches of color.
“It has purple streaks from our printer,” he testified. “We had a constant problem of printing that color incorrectly.
“So even ISIS had printer problems?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mulcahy asked.
“It is another proof that these files came from our printer," Al-Madioum added. "As time went on, the streaks got darker.”
A bearded Musaibli, dressed in a baggy, tan uniform, watched testimony on a Zoom feed from federal prison in Milan, about 50 miles southwest of Detroit, where he is being held after losing a bond request.
He sat frozen, staring as Al-Madioum shuffled into the courtroom wearing an orange jailhouse jumpsuit, his movements limited by handcuffs, ankle chains and shackles.
Al-Madioum testified under increased security conditions. Two deputy U.S. Marshals sat on either side of the witness box, inches from Al-Madioum, and a security officer blocked the path leading to U.S. District Judge David Lawson.
"Raise your right hand," Lawson said as he prepared to swear in Al-Madioum before catching himself. "Excuse me, I'm sorry."
Al-Madioum's testimony came five months after he pleaded guilty in federal court, admitting he provided support to ISIS. He is a Morocco native and naturalized U.S. citizen who lived in St. Louis Park, a Minneapolis suburb who disappeared on summer vacation with his family in Casablanca in June 2015.
Investigators later learned he left Morocco for Istanbul, Turkey, one stop on a secret plan to join Isis in Iraq and Syria.
Al-Madioum served as an ISIS soldier in the Tariq Bin-Ziyad battalion until 2016.
He testified he knew Musaibli by multiple aliases, including Abu ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Yemeni.
“Did you meet or interact while in the Islamic State,” Mulcahy asked.
“Correct, approximately four times,” Al-Madioum said.
He identified Musaibli's alias in the ISIS fighter roster along with several other names of fighters, including a neighbor.
The testimony Monday included details about the mundane duties of a sworn member of a terrorist organization.
Al-Madioum said he worked in an office with desks and laptop computers and used Microsoft Access to maintain an ISIS fighter database for about six months in 2016. He worked in an ISIS administrative office inside a house.
"We used houses for security purposes," he said.
“What do you mean?” Mulcahy asked.
“It can’t be targeted by coalition forces in a drone strike,” Al-Madioum said.
Al-Madioum said he had two motivations to testify Monday.
“To reduce time from my prison sentence,” Al-Madioum said. “And to distance myself away from the ideology that ISIS had, as someone who went and saw what they did.”
Defense lawyers have downplayed the impact of Musaibli's alias — Abu ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Yemeni — appearing in ISIS records. Without more identifying details, the name is equivalent to John Smith, the lawyers argued.
Al-Madioum testified the roster database contained numerous unique details for each fighter. That included first name, father’s name, grandfather’s name, birthdate, ISIS identification number and the number of each fighter's wives and children.
“Are you generally aware that ISIS documents have been fabricated?” defense lawyer John Shea asked.
“Not that I’ve known of,” Al-Madioum said.
The hearing happened approximately three years after Musaibli was captured in Syria and repatriated. Prosecutors say the high school dropout and perfume shop worker traveled to Syria in 2015, underwent ISIS military training and swore allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
Defense lawyers are trying to suppress the ISIS roster and other documents and evidence seized during the investigation and noted that inaccuracies, misspellings and errors in the database were common and the roster database was poorly secured.
“Before I went to (Tariq bin Ziyad), we never used encryption,” Al-Madioum said under cross-examination. “We didn’t use safety protocols with our data.”
He could not recall entering any information about Musaibli in the ISIS roster database.
They also are trying to prevent jurors from seeing text messages Musaibli exchanged with an FBI task force officer, arguing the officer used coercion to extract incriminating statements.
They do not concede Musaibli was an ISIS fighter and have suggested he was a civilian living under ISIS rule.
Al-Madioum recounted meeting Musaibli once when they shared a car ride, once in a mosque, once when Musaibli complained during a chance meeting about not receiving an ISIS stipend for married fighters — $50 for each wife and $35 per child.
“The gossip you heard about his relationship with the Islamic State was largely him being critical, correct?” Shea asked.
“Gossip and direct statements, yes,” Al-Madioum said.
Defense lawyers Monday challenged the authenticity of the records and chain of custody as the evidence was seized by foreign military forces before copies were shared with the FBI.
Earlier Monday, FBI intelligence analyst Mark Frost testified an ISIS roster seized in Mosul, Iraq, contained several telltale signs consistent with authentic Islamic State documents. The signs included an ISIS stamp, the Islamic calendar date and Gregorian calendar date, the Islamic State version of a Social Security number for reach fighter and a Musaibli alias, Frost testified.
The documents were seized as coalition forces reclaimed ISIS land in Iraq and Syria, according to the government. Seized items, including computers, cell phones and electronic storage media, were transported to a Regional Exploitation Center.
The roster that referenced Musaibli was sent to Frost in February 2017.
Defense lawyers attacked the authenticity and chain of custody of the documents, noting that they were collected by Iraqi military forces. Frost said he analyzed copies of the original documents.
“You don’t have any idea how these documents were created,” Musaibli lawyer Fabian Renteria Franco asked. “Or how they are handled or stored?”
“No,” Frost said.
Frost told Mulcahy that it was common to receive copies while the Iraqi military kept originals.
"Is it fair to say the Iraqis had an interest in investigating ISIS that took over parts of their country?" Mulcahy asked.
"Yes," Frost said.
Documents analyzed by regional centers are sent to the National Media Exploitation Center in Bethesda, Md., FBI Liaison Officer Joseph Pilkus testified. The center is a digital repository of more than 500 billion documents seized overseas and searchable by keyword.
“Did you ever find fake information at NMEC in this case or any other law enforcement case?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Hank Moon asked.
“No,” Pilkus said.
“Or an intelligence search you’ve done?” the prosecutor asked.
“No,” Pilkus said.
Musaibli’s lawyer challenged that claim.
“That’s a huge statement when you say there are over 500 billion documents there,” Renteria Franco said. “Is there any inaccurate information found in any of the documents at the repository?”
“I can’t test the veracity of information coming into the center; if it was altered or not," Pilkus said.
Musaibli's alias appears multiple times in ISIS hospital records seized in Raqqa, Syria, in fall 2017, an officer assigned to an FBI joint terrorism task force said Monday. The officer is not being identified due to a security concern.
The hospital records document repeated treatments Musaibli received in fall 2016, including treatment for what a medical professional said was a bullet in the head.