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Man accused of ISIS support denied bond

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Conceding that public support of ISIS beheadings on social media, a stated desire to engage in martyrdom operations and a fascination with killing may be protected speech, a federal judge said they are also “threatening statements” and denied bond for a Dearborn Heights man.

U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh on Tuesday denied a motion to release Khalil Abu Rayyan from federal detention while the 21-year-old awaits trial on two gun-related felonies.

Rayyan has been in federal custody since Feb. 4 after FBI agents arrested him. He has not been charged with terrorism-related crimes.

Steeh said Rayyan’s alleged support on Twitter of photos and videos of ISIS-related killings, beheadings and other acts of violence before his arrest, as well as his statements to an undercover agent about committing acts of martyrdom and fascination with beheadings and violence, were among several reasons Steeh denied a request to release Rayyan on bond with conditions.

“These are things that I think anybody reading them would certainly be frightened of the statements,” Steeh said of statements attributed to Rayyan by prosecutors.

Rayyan’s public defender, Todd Shanker, argued before Steeh that his client’s speech was protected and that most of the alleged support came through retweets and not original posts.

He also reminded Steeh that Rayyan never took any steps to hurt anyone and never materially supported any terrorist groups. And the grand jury never indicted his client on terrorism charges.

“They don’t have the evidence. This is protected speech. It’s not pleasant speech. It’s disgusting, but it doesn’t make him a threat to others,” Shanker said.

Shanker told Steeh that Rayyan said he watched violent videos and liked violent posts for the same reason he watched pornography, because they were different from his life of working 70 hours a week at a pizzeria.

“We live in the United States. We live in a country obsessed with violence and sex,” Shanker told Steeh.

Steeh said the government has provided evidence that Rayyan did more than watch violent videos: there are photos of Rayyan practicing shooting with an AR-15 and an AK-47.

“A weapon of choice for mass murderers. That goes well beyond looking at the Internet,” Steeh said.

Rayyan does not own the guns and was practicing with them during a gun class, Shanker later said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Waterstreet urged Steeh to deny the motion, saying alleged Rayyan’s substance abuse problem and gun charges were enough to keep him detained.

Waterstreet brought to court several copies of photographs found on Rayyan’s cell phone when it was taken by police. He showed Steeh an image the FBI found that Rayyan used as wallpaper, or the background picture, on his cell phone.

“It is of an individual making the ISIS sign and holding a severed woman’s head. He made it the wallpaper on his phone so when he turned it on, he saw it every single time,” Waterstreet said.

Rayyan came under FBI surveillance in 2015 after he boasted about plans to “shoot up” a Detroit church, according to authorities. Agents had been investigating him “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.

Federal officials said Abu-Rayyan bought a .22 caliber revolver in October from a Dearborn Heights sporting goods store but lacked a concealed pistol license. He is charged with with making a false statement to acquire a firearm and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. The charges are 10-year felonies.

The case is set for trial on Oct. 11.

jchambers@detroitnews.com