Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh

U.S. citizen Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh is a former foreign fighter for al-Qaeda. Between 2007 and 2014, he served in al-Qaeda’s elite external operations arm where he helped to construct a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device that was used in an attack on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan in January 2009. Farekh was arrested by Pakistani forces in 2014 and subsequently extradited to the United States, where he was accused of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York, “United States of America against Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, Defendant: Sentencing Memorandum” The Investigative Project on Terrorism, January 5, 2018, https://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/3634.pdf. He was charged with eight additional counts in a January 2016 superseding indictment, including conspiring to kill U.S. nationals and use a weapon of mass destruction.“United States District Court Eastern District of New York: United States of America v. Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh Superseding Indictment,” Department of Justice, January 6, 2016, 1 – 4, https://www.justice.gov/opa/file/811101/download. He was found guilty for terrorism charges in September 2017 and sentenced to 45 years imprisonment on March 13, 2018.Brendan Pierson, “American convicted of supporting al Qaeda, aiding bomb attack,” Reuters, September 29, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-security-alqaeda/american-convicted-of-supporting-al-qaeda-aiding-bomb-attack-idUSKCN1C42ZY; Brendan Pierson, “American sentenced to 45 years prison for role in al Qaeda bomb attack,” Reuters, March 13, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-security-alqaeda/american-sentenced-to-45-years-prison-for-role-in-al-qaeda-bomb-attack-idUSKCN1GP2AD. Farekh had reportedly self-radicalized in 2006 by listening to the online lectures of American-born al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.“United States District Court Eastern District of New York: United States of America v. Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh,” Department of Justice, April 2, 2015, 4, https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2015/04/02/farekh-complaint.pdf.

Farekh was born in Houston, Texas, in 1985 and grew up in Jordan, Dubai, and Canada, where he was raised in an “upper-income environment.” Between 2005 and 2007, he attended college at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada.U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York, “United States of America against Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, Defendant: Sentencing Memorandum” The Investigative Project on Terrorism, January 5, 2018, https://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/3634.pdf. Farekh spoke fluent Arabic, and joined the Muslim Student Association where he met Ferid Imam and Maiwand Yar, two fellow students.U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York, “United States of America against Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, Defendant: Sentencing Memorandum” The Investigative Project on Terrorism, January 5, 2018, https://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/3634.pdf. Together with others from the university, Farekh, Imam, and Yar traveled to Saudi Arabia on a religious hajj trip in December 2006. Thereafter, the three men self-radicalized and watched extremist videos that encouraged violent jihad, including Anwar al-Awlaki’s sermons.U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York, “United States of America against Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, Defendant,” Department of Justice, 4, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2015/04/02/farekh-complaint.pdf ; U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York, “United States of America against Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, Defendant: Sentencing Memorandum” The Investigative Project on Terrorism, January 5, 2018, https://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/3634.pdf.

In early 2007, Farekh, Imam, and Yar planned to drop out of school to travel to Pakistan and wage jihad.U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York, “United States of America against Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, Defendant: Sentencing Memorandum” The Investigative Project on Terrorism, January 5, 2018, https://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/3634.pdf. Farekh and his co-conspirators obtained Pakistani tourist visas and purchased round trip tickets to Karachi, Pakistan, though none of them used the return portion of their tickets.U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York, “United States of America against Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, Defendant,” Department of Justice, 4, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2015/04/02/farekh-complaint.pdf. In March 2007, the men traveled to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, an area in the northern part of Pakistan that borders Afghanistan, to join al-Qaeda and receive training.Department of Justice/Office of Public Affairs. “American Citizen Sentenced To 45 Years for Conspiring to Murder U.S. Nationals and Providing Material Support to Al-Qaeda”. March 13, 2018. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/american-citizen-sentenced-45-years-conspiring-murder-us-nationals-and-providing-material. Due to his familiarity with the West, Farekh joined al-Qaeda’s external operations arm and assisted senior al-Qaeda figure Abdul Hafeez, before he took a leadership position himself after Hafeez’s death.Department of Justice/Office of Public Affairs. “American Citizen Sentenced To 45 Years for Conspiring to Murder U.S. Nationals and Providing Material Support to Al-Qaeda”. March 13, 2018. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/american-citizen-sentenced-45-years-conspiring-murder-us-nationals-and-providing-material; U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York, “United States of America against Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, Defendant: Sentencing Memorandum” The Investigative Project on Terrorism, January 5, 2018, https://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/3634.pdf. Farekh was also a member of al-Qaeda’s Abu Bakr al-Saddiq combat battalion.U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York, “United States of America against Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, Defendant: Sentencing Memorandum” The Investigative Project on Terrorism, January 5, 2018, https://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/3634.pdf.

According to U.S. authorities, Farekh assisted in the construction of a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) that was used in an al-Qaeda attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman, a U.S. military installation used by the U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team in Khost, Afghanistan. On January 19, 2009, two explosives-laden vehicles approached the base’s gate. One vehicle exploded, but the second was stuck and abandoned without detonating the VBIED. The initial explosion injured one U.S. soldier and numerous Afghan nationals. Authorities believe that the second device would have caused catastrophic damage and mass casualties had it been successfully detonated. Forensic technicians later recovered Farekh’s fingerprints and DNA at the packing tape that was wrapped around the second VBIED binding the explosive materials together.Department of Justice/Office of Public Affairs. “American Citizen Sentenced To 45 Years for Conspiring to Murder U.S. Nationals and Providing Material Support to Al-Qaeda”. March 13, 2018. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/american-citizen-sentenced-45-years-conspiring-murder-us-nationals-and-providing-material; U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York, “United States of America against Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, Defendant: Sentencing Memorandum” The Investigative Project on Terrorism, January 5, 2018, https://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/3634.pdf.

In late 2014, Farekh was arrested by Pakistani forces acting on intelligence provided by U.S. agencies.Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, “Terrorism Case Renews Debate Over Drone Hits,” New York Times, April 12, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/13/us/terrorism-case-renews-debate-over-drone-hits.html; U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York, “United States of America against Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, Defendant: Sentencing Memorandum” The Investigative Project on Terrorism, January 5, 2018, https://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/3634.pdf. In January 2015, the U.S. District Court of Eastern New York issued a criminal complaint and warrant for Farekh’s arrest for conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York, “United States of America against Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, Defendant,” Department of Justice, 1 - 13, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2015/04/02/farekh-complaint.pdf. Farekh was deported from Pakistan in April 2015 and extradited to the United States, where he was arrested by the FBI and charged with conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.“Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, Former Winnipeg Student Accused Of Terrorism, Held Under 'Barbaric' Conditions: Lawyer,” Huffington Post, August 26, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/08/26/barbaric-conditions-imposed-on-former-winnipeg-student-accused-of-terrorism-lawyer_n_8042356.html;
“American Citizen Charged With Conspiring to Provide Material Support to Terrorists,” Department of Justice, April 2, 2015, http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/american-citizen-charged-conspiring-provide-material-support-terrorists.
Farekh was charged in a January 2016 superseding indictment with nine related terrorism charges, including conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, conspiracy to bomb a government facility, and conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.Nate Raymond, “American al Qaeda suspect pleads not guilty as U.S. mulls new charges,” Reuters, January 7, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-security-alqaeda-idUSKBN0UL2IC20160107;
“United States District Court Eastern District of New York: United States of America v. Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh Superseding Indictment,” Department of Justice, January 6, 2016, 1 – 7, https://www.justice.gov/opa/file/811101/download.

On September 29, 2017, Farekh was found guilty by the Federal District Court in Brooklyn for terrorism charges, including conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals, use of a weapon of mass destruction, and support of a foreign terrorist organization. Farekh’s defense attorney filed an appeal.Brendan Pierson, “American convicted of supporting al Qaeda, aiding bomb attack,” Reuters, September 29, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-security-alqaeda/american-convicted-of-supporting-al-qaeda-aiding-bomb-attack-idUSKCN1C42ZY.

A federal court in Brooklyn, New York sentenced Farekh to 45 years imprisonment on March 13, 2018. His defense attorney read a letter written by Farekh, which claimed that he now opposed violence and suggested it was possible for young men to be misled into violence. The court did not view his words as an “enthusiastic acceptance of responsibility” nor were they convinced that Farekh was no longer committed to violent jihad. Farekh’s defense attorney announced that he will appeal the conviction.Brendan Pierson, “American sentenced to 45 years prison for role in al Qaeda bomb attack,” Reuters, March 13, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-security-alqaeda/american-sentenced-to-45-years-prison-for-role-in-al-qaeda-bomb-attack-idUSKCN1GP2AD.

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