Man suspected of backing Islamic State remains held

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Saying he could not assure the safety of the community if he was released, a federal judge detained a Dearborn Heights man suspected of supporting Islamic State extremists and planning to “shoot up” a Detroit church.

Khalil Abu-Rayyan was taken away by the U.S. Marshal Service immediately after U.S. Executive Magistrate Judge Steven Whalen made his ruling Tuesday after an hour-long hearing on whether to release the 21-year-old who faces a charge of illegally possessing a firearm while using a controlled substance.

Prosecutors have not filed terrorism-related crimes against Abu-Rayyan, but offered several statements he made to police as reasons to detain him.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Waterstreet, Abu-Rayyan told an undercover agent he was hearing voices in his head that told him to “burn people alive.” He also told the agent that “shooting and death make me excited. I love to hear people begging and screaming. ... I wish I had my gun.”

“His dream was beheading someone,” Waterstreet said. “This is not a person the court should take a risk (with).”

Todd Shanker of the Federal Defenders Office said his client was trying to impress the female undercover FBI agent who told Abu-Rayyan that she was a 19-year-old Iraqi Sunni Muslim who supported ISIL and was willing to be a martyr.

Shanker said the undercover agent attempted to seduce and radicalize Abu-Rayyan with text messages.

“Everything (he said) that came after that was what Khalil thought she wanted to hear. When he said, ‘I don’t want to hurt anyone,’ it was met by silence or ‘you’re a fake,’ ” Shanker told the judge.

Shanker asked the judge to focus on the charge in front of them, a 10-year felony, not terrorism charges.

Whalen called Abu-Rayyan’s statements to police, his posting on Twitter about violent pro-ISIS videos and other communications with an undercover agent “disturbing” but said they were not against the law.

“It speaks to a propensity to radicalization,” Whalen said. “I’m concerned about these voices he hears from Satan. ... These are statements from his own mouth.”

Whalen said his job was to determine if bond conditions existed that could assure the safety of the community if Abu-Rayyan was released.

“This may be a bunch of baloney, but I go on facts. I think it would be a mistake (to release him),” Whalen said, adding, “I feel bad for his family, but I’m entrusted with the decision to make this community safe.”

Immediately after the decision, Abu-Rayyan asked, “Can I hug my father?” but was told no by the U.S. Marshal service and was removed from court.

His father and family members were in court but left immediately after the decision.

Whalen denied a request by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for a competency hearing for Abu-Rayyan but ordered that he undergo a mental health and physical evaluation while he is in detention.

The FBI has been investigating Abu-Rayyan since May “regarding increasingly violent threats he has made to others about committing acts of terror and martyrdom — including brutal acts against police officers, churchgoers and others — on behalf of the foreign terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and Levant,” according to a criminal complaint.

According to a complaint unsealed Feb. 4 in U.S. District Court, Abu-Rayyan reportedly told an undercover FBI employee about a plot to target a Detroit church.

“I tried to shoot up a church one day,” Abu-Rayyan is quoted as saying in court records. “I don’t know the name of it, but it’s close to my job. It’s one of the biggest ones in Detroit. Ya, I had it planned out. I bought a bunch of bullets. I practiced a lot with it. I practiced reloading and unloading. But my dad searched my car one day, and he found everything. He found the gun and the bullets and a mask I was going to wear.”

Investigators didn’t name the church Abu-Rayyan allegedly eyed, but claimed the property covers about two blocks less than a half-mile from his work and can accommodate up to 6,000 members. He allegedly purchased a gun and told an undercover FBI employee that attacking a church would be “easy.”

The court document claims Abu-Rayyan used Twitter for “retweeting, liking and commenting” on Islamic State propaganda since late 2014.

According to the affidavit, the posts included “video of a Jordanian fighter pilot being burned alive, men being thrown from a high rise building to execute them, the beheading of Christians in Egypt and news of ISIL victories.”

The case returns to court on Thursday.