CHICAGO (CBS) — A Chicago man has been arrested on federal terrorism charges, accused of using social media to try to “spread violent jihad” and encourage others to carry out terrorist attacks on behalf of ISIS.
Ashraf Al Safoo, 34, was arrested Wednesday morning, following a raid at his home in the Budlong Woods neighborhood. Safoo works as an information technology specialist at Blue Bolt Solutions.
Al Safoo has been charged with one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
Federal prosecutors said he is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Iraq, and moved to the U.S. ten years ago. He has a master’s degree in computer science.
Al Safoo allegedly worked with ISIS to use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and another unnamed social media app to spread propaganda supporting violent jihad and recruit operatives to carry out terrorist attacks for the Islamic State.
Prosecutors said he is a member of Khattab Media Foundation, an Internet group that has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, and spread ISIS propaganda online, including pro-ISIS videos, articles, and essays promoting violent jihad. According to the feds, the images and videos Khattab has created include images of violence during Christmas, celebrations of terrorist attacks, and mass shootings in the U.S.
According to the charges, one video created by Khattab features a computer-generated image of a family standing around a Christmas tree, with a castle in the background, before cutting to images of explosions, featuring images of dead and injured children.
The video then cuts to the words “Now listen you dogs of hell. This is a message and more are going to follow. This is just the beginning. Our gifts are now ready,” before showing a Christmas present containing a ticking bomb. The video then cuts to a news clip of a mass shooting; an image of a soldier dressed in black, holding a detonator; then landmarks from various world landmarks; and the soldier detonating a bomb.
In November of last year, Al Safoo allegedly used a social media app to encourage people to help ISIS in any way possible.
“Thus, it was incumbent on us to support them verbally and with money and soul and by inciting others to target the tyrants and expose the evil scholars and the Saudi rulers,” he allegedly wrote.
Five months ago, he allegedly posted directions for Khattab’s propaganda efforts online.
“Brothers, roll up your sleeves! Cut video publications into small clips, take still shots, and post the hard work of your brothers in the apostate’s pages and sites. Participate in the war, and spread fear,” he allegedly wrote.
He has been ordered held without bail, and a detention hearing has been scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
Al Safoo, clad in an orange prison jumpsuit, was subdued when addressing Judge David Weisman in court. Sources say he as worked from Blue Bolt Solutions for at least the past year.
“We are deeply shocked, saddened, and in complete disbelief to learn of this situation. We are fully cooperating with the FBI and local authorities on the investigation,” Blue Bolt CEO David Risner said.