Funeral set for New Jersey officer killed in shooting rampage

By Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Funeral services are scheduled on Tuesday for a northern New Jersey police detective, the first of six people to die last week in a shooting rampage that authorities have labeled an act of domestic terrorism.

Six people, including the man and woman who carried out the attack, died in a series of events on Dec. 10 that ended in a police shootout in Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from New York City.

Jersey City Police Detective Joseph Seals was among four people killed by the pair, who died following a four-hour gun battle with police after holing up in a kosher market, authorities said.

Seals, 40, a 15-year police veteran who leaves a wife and five children, will be remembered at a funeral mass set for 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT) at Saint Aedan’s Church in Jersey City.

A Jersey City native who worked as a county corrections officer before joining the police force in November 2005, Seals had been a detective for two years.

A GoFundMe page set up by Jersey City Police Officer’s Benevolent Association had raised more than $536,000 for his family by Monday afternoon.

Seals had gone to a cemetery on Dec. 10 to meet an informant as part of an unrelated gun or narcotics investigation, PIX11 television reported, citing an unidentified senior law enforcement source.

While there, he approached a van that was suspected of being involved in a murder in nearby a Bayonne. He was ambushed by the pair, David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, PIX11 and other local media reported.

A Jersey City police spokeswoman declined to comment on the reports.

The pair then drove to the JC Kosher Supermarket where authorities said they shot and killed three people and exchanged gunfire with police. The siege ended after four hours when police crashed an armored vehicle through the wall of the market.

After examining the attackers’ social media posts and other evidence, authorities said last week the pair had expressed interest in the Black Hebrew Israelites, a group unaffiliated with mainstream Judaism and some of whose offshoots the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as hate groups. Officials said they had not established an official link between the shooters and the group.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

FBI investigating New Jersey kosher grocery rampage as domestic terrorism

By Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A fatal gun rampage at a kosher grocery store in northern New Jersey this week is now being treated as an act of domestic terrorism and the FBI will oversee the investigation, federal and state law enforcement officials said on Thursday.

Six people, including the man and woman who carried out the attack, three civilians and a police officer died in a series of events that ended in a police shootout on Tuesday in Jersey City, New Jersey, located across the Hudson River from New York City.

“The evidence points toward acts of hate,” state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told a news conference. “We are investigating this matter as potential acts of domestic terror, fueled both by anti-Semitism and anti-law enforcement beliefs.”

The U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Craig Carpenito, told the news conference that the Federal Bureau of Investigation would lead the probe.

The four-hour gun battle at the JC Kosher Supermarket erupted after two assailants shot the police officer at a nearby cemetery and then fled in a white van. It ended after police crashed an armored vehicle through the wall of the market. Authorities on Wednesday said that the pair had targeted the kosher grocery store, heading there deliberately after leaving the cemetery.

On Thursday, authorities said they were examining social media posts and other evidence to learn more about the motives of the attackers, who they said had expressed interest in the Black Hebrew Israelites, a group unaffiliated with mainstream Judaism and some of whose offshoots the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as hate groups. Authorities have not established an official link between the shooters and the group, Grewal said.

The attackers appear to have acted alone, officials said.

Authorities on Wednesday identified the shooters as David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50. The three civilian victims inside the market were co-owner Mindy Ferencz, 31, Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, 49, and Moshe Deutsch, 24, they said.

A fourth person who was in the market escaped after the shooters entered. Officials declined to identify that person.

The slain police officer was identified as Joseph Seals, a 15-year veteran of the force and father of five.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop labeled the incident a hate crime just hours after the attack.

“I think as more info comes out it will be more and more clear not only that this was a hate crime but that the perpetrators had hoped to kill many more people than 4,” Fulop said on Twitter earlier.

Law enforcement recovered five guns linked to the two suspects, Grewal said. Four of them were recovered inside the kosher supermarket and one was recovered inside the van.

Officials said Anderson fired an AR-15-style weapon and Graham was armed with a 12-gauge shotgun as they entered the store. A 9mm Glock and 9mm semi-automatic firearm were recovered inside the market, and a .22-caliber gun equipped with a homemade silencer was found inside the U-Haul.

Authorities also said they were working to determine if Anderson and Graham were linked to the killing of an Uber driver in Bayonne, New Jersey, over the weekend.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)

NRA sues San Francisco over ‘terrorist organization’ label

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – The National Rifle Association (NRA) sued San Francisco on Monday, saying a declaration by the city’s Board of Supervisors that officials should limit businesses linked to the NRA because it is a “terrorist organization” was effectively a blacklist.

The confrontation follows heightened debate in the United States following a spate of mass shootings, including one last month at an El Paso Walmart in which 22 people were killed and about 24 wounded in the city near the U.S.-Mexico border.

The NRA, a gun club and gun rights lobbying group with deep political influence, alleged in the suit that the city was violating its free speech rights for political reasons.

“This lawsuit comes with a message to those who attack the NRA: We will never stop fighting for our law-abiding members and their constitutional freedoms,” Wayne LaPierre, the group’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The resolution declares: “The National Rifle Association is a domestic terrorist organization’ whose advocacy is a direct cause of arming “individuals who would and have committed acts of terrorism”.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani of the San Francisco board was confident the measure to limit city and county officials working with companies doing business with the NRA would stand up in court, according to the New York Times.

“It’s a resolution, it’s not an ordinance, it’s non-binding,” she told the newspaper.

It requires government officials to “assess the financial and contractual relationships with our vendors and contractors have with [the NRA],” and to “take every reasonable step to limit those entities who do business with the City and County of San Francisco.” It does not go into effect unless signed by San Francisco Mayor London Breed.

The suit asks the court to “instruct elected officials that freedom of speech means you cannot silence or punish those with whom you disagree.”

“The Resolution does not try to hide it animus towards the NRA’s political speech, nor its animating purpose: to remove the NRA from the gun control debate,” said the suit, filed on Monday in the District Court for the Northern District of California.

Neither city officials nor a representative for the NRA were immediately available for comment.

(This has been refiled to fix typo in the lead.)

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Paul Tait and Philippa Fletcher)

FBI opens domestic terror investigation into Gilroy, Calif., mass shooting

FILE PHOTO: A painting by Gilroy resident Ignacio "Nacho" Moya on the stage at a vigil for those who died and were injured at the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival a day earlier, in Gilroy, California, U.S. July 29, 2019. REUTERS/Kate Munsch

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – The FBI has opened a domestic terrorism investigation into a California mass shooting by a 19-year-old gunman who killed three people at a food festival last week, officials said on Tuesday.

Authorities have said they still do not know what motivated Santino William Legan, 19, to fire an assault-style rifle into a crowd in Gilroy, California, on July 28. His victims included a 6-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl.

Police officers exchanged gunfire with Legan, who was wearing a bullet-resistant vest, and struck him, Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said at a news conference on Tuesday. Legan killed himself with a gunshot to the head.

Investigators have discovered he kept a list that appeared to have targets of violence, John Bennett, the FBI agent in charge in the San Francisco office, told the news conference.

One of those potential targets was the one he attacked, the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, Bennett said. The decades-old event celebrates produce from California’s countryside and is held about 70 miles (110 km) south of San Francisco.

“The shooter appeared to have an interest in varying, competing violent ideologies,” Bennett told reporters.

“Due to the discovery of the target list, as well as other information we have encountered in this investigation, the FBI has opened a full domestic terrorism investigation into this mass shooting.”

RACIST TREATISE

Before the shooting, Legan had posted on his Instagram page a photograph showing a sign warning of a high danger of forest fires. Its caption urged people to read “Might is Right,” a racist and sexist treatise written in the 19th century.

FBI investigators are considering Legan’s Instagram posts as they seek to determine his motivation and are exploring whether he was motivated by white nationalism, Bennett said.

Legan’s target list, which he kept on at least one digital device, had organizations from across the country and included religious institutions and political organizations affiliated with both the Democratic and Republican parties, Bennett said.

Legan left no manifesto, Bennett said, declining to provide other details on his ideological leanings.

Legan fired 39 rounds and the three officers who confronted him fired 18, Smithee said, and Legan had more than 200 rounds of ammunition on or near his body.

Legan’s family in a statement on Tuesday apologized to the families of the three people he killed and to the wounded, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“We have never and would never condone the hateful thoughts and ideologies that led to this event, and it is impossible to reconcile this with the son we thought we knew,” the statement said.

Members of Legan’s family could not immediately be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; editing by Bill Tarrant and Jonathan Oatis)

Prosecutors charge Texas shooting suspect with murder, seek death penalty

People pray during a vigil a day after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

By Julio-Cesar Chavez

EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) – A single capital murder charge was filed on Sunday against the man accused of killing 20 people and wounding more than two dozen others at a Walmart store in El Paso, mass shooting authorities are viewing as a case of domestic terrorism.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Saturday’s rampage in the heavily Hispanic city appeared to be a hate crime. Police cited an anti-immigrant screed posted online shortly before the shooting, which they attributed to the suspect, Patrick Crusius, as evidence that the bloodshed was racially motivated.

It was the second of three separate public shooting sprees carried out in the United States in the span of a week, an unusually dense cluster of massacres that prompted fresh alarm in a country accustomed to reports of young men shooting down strangers.

The County of El Paso’s state court website lists a single charge of capital murder against Crusius, a 21-year-old white man from Allen, Texas.

His grandparents, with whom Crusius had recently been living, said they were devastated by the attack.

“He lived with us in our house in Allen, Texas, while he attended Collin College,” the statement said, read aloud by a family friend to reporters outside the home on Sunday. “He moved out of our house six weeks ago, and has spent a few nights here while we were out of town.”

The single charge is likely a legal place holder to keep Crusius in custody until further charges can be filed against him for each of the dead and the wounded.

It was unclear if Crusius has a lawyer or when a bond hearing or other court appearances will occur.

A state prosecutor said prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Crusius if he is found guilty.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement on Sunday the attack “underscores the continued threat posed by domestic violent extremists and perpetrators of hate crimes.”

The agency said it remains concerned that more U.S.-based extremists could become inspired by these and previous high-profile attacks to engage in similar acts of violence.

The U.S. attorney for the western district of Texas, John Bash, said federal authorities were treating the El Paso massacre as a case of domestic terrorism.

“And we’re going to do what we do to terrorists in this country, which is to deliver swift and certain justice,” he told a news conference on Sunday. He said the attack appeared “to be designed to intimidate a civilian population, to say the least.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray told a congressional panel on July 23 that the bureau has recorded about 100 arrests of domestic terrorism suspects in the preceding nine months and that most investigations of that kind involve some form of white supremacy.

BACK-TO-BACK SHOOTINGS

The Texas rampage was followed just 13 hours later by another mass shooting, and came a week after a man shot dead three people at a California garlic festival before he was killed by police.

In Dayton, Ohio a gunman in body armor and a mask killed nine people in less than a minute and wounded 27 others in the city’s downtown historic district before he was shot dead by police.

Democratic candidates for next year’s presidential election called on Sunday for stricter gun laws and accused President Donald Trump of stoking racial tensions.

Trump has frequently derided many asylum seekers and other immigrants coming across the U.S. southern border as liars and criminals. At a political rally he held in May, after asking the crowd what could be done about immigrants coming in illegally, Trump smiled and joked after someone in the crowd yelled back: “Shoot them!”

Responding to the shootings, Trump called on lawmakers to pass new background checks laws for buying guns, and suggested any such legislation might also include greater restrictions on immigration.

“We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!” he wrote on Twitter on Monday morning ahead of planned remarks on the subject. On Sunday, he attributed the shootings to what he called the “mental illness” of the killers.

SIGNS OF HATE

El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said the suspect was cooperating with investigators.

“He basically didn’t hold anything back,” Allen said at Sunday’s news conference but declined to elaborate.

Police said the suspect opened fire with a rifle on shoppers, many of them bargain-hunting for back-to-school supplies, then surrendered to officers who confronted him outside the store.

A police spokesman said on Sunday that the names of the victims would be released only when relatives had been informed, and he said he had no estimate for how long that would take.

Crusius comes from Allen, Texas, a Dallas suburb some 650 miles (1,046 km) east of El Paso, which lies along the Rio Grande across the U.S.-Mexico border from Ciudad Juarez.

A four-page statement posted on 8chan, an online message board often used by extremists, and believed to have been written by the suspect, called the Walmart attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

It also expressed for support for the gunman who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.

El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, together with the neighboring city of Las Cruces, New Mexico, form a metropolitan border area of some 2.5 million residents constituting the largest bilingual, bi-national population in North America.

The rampage in El Paso on Saturday was the eighth most deadly mass shooting in recent years in the United States.

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in El Paso; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Jonathan Allen in New York, Keith Coffman in Denver, Tim Reid in Las Vegas, Mark Hosenball in London, Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City, Daniel Trotta in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Frances Kerry and Nick Zieminski)

Times Square driver who mowed down pedestrians denies guilt

FILE PHOTO: A vehicle that struck pedestrians and later crashed is seen on the sidewalk in Times Square in New York City, U.S., May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The man accused of killing a woman and injuring 22 others by using his car to cut a three-block swath through the crowded sidewalks of New York’s Times Square denied all charges on Thursday related to the May attack, prosecutors said.

Richard Rojas, 26, pleaded not guilty to second degree murder, second degree attempted murder and first and second degree assault, prosecutors said. A grand jury indicted him on May 24.

Rojas, a Navy veteran, drove his Honda sedan down Seventh Avenue on May 18 and made a U-turn, mowing down pedestrians on sidewalks for three city blocks before crashing, prosecutors said. His lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.

Alyssa Elsman, an 18-year-old woman visiting from Michigan, was killed, while 22 other pedestrians suffered various injuries, some serious.

After the car crashed, the driver was subdued by onlookers and police as he tried to flee on foot.

Rojas previously told the New York Post in a tearful jailhouse interview shortly after the crash that he had unsuccessfully sought psychiatric care and had no recollection of the incident.

He was believed to be under the influence of some intoxicating substance, a police source previously told Reuters, while law enforcement officials told ABC News he was apparently high on synthetic marijuana.

Rojas has had numerous run-ins with the law over the past decade, according to Navy and public court records. He has had at least four prior arrests, including two for drunken driving and one for allegedly threatening a man with a knife outside his apartment in New York City’s Bronx borough.

While serving in the Navy in 2013, he spent two months in a military jail in South Carolina, though records do not disclose the reason.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Bernard Orr)

Wife of Orlando shooter could face charges soon

Gunshot survivor Angel Santiago recounts his story at a news conference at Florida Hospital Orlando on the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando

By Letitia Stein and Julia Edwards

ORLANDO, Fla./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The wife of the gunman who killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub could face criminal charges as early as Wednesday after a federal grand jury was convened to study possible wrongdoing by her, a law enforcement source said.

Omar Mateen’s wife, Noor Salman, knew of his plans for what became the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, said the law enforcement source, who has been briefed on the matter.

U.S. Senator Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which received a briefing on the investigation into Sunday’s massacre, told CNN it appeared Salman had “some knowledge” of what was going on.

“She definitely is, I guess you would say, a person of interest right now and appears to be cooperating and can provide us with some important information,” King said.

Salman was with Mateen when he cased possible targets in the past two months, including the Disney World resort in April, a shopping complex called Disney Springs and the Pulse nightclub in early June, CNN and NBC reported.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer was due to open a family assistance center at a stadium on Wednesday where those directly affected by the tragedy will be able to get information, support and other resources, city officials said.

Mateen, who was shot dead by police SWAT team members after a three-hour standoff, called 911 during his rampage to profess allegiance to various militant Islamist groups.

Federal investigators have said he was likely self-radicalized and there was no evidence he received any help or instructions from outside groups such as Islamic State. Mateen, 29, was a U.S. citizen, born in New York of Afghan immigrant parents and worked as a security guard.

“He appears to have been an angry, disturbed, unstable young man who became radicalized,” President Barack Obama told reporters.

Salman’s mother, Ekbal Zahi Salman, lives in a middle-class neighborhood in Rodeo, California, about 25 miles (40 km) north of San Francisco. A neighbor said Noor Salman only visited her mother once after she married Mateen.

Noor Salman’s mother “didn’t like him very much. He didn’t allow her (Noor) to come here,” said neighbor Rajinder Chahal. He said he had spoken to Noor Salman’s mother after the Orlando attack and she “was crying, weeping.”

“I’M NEXT”

Mateen’s rampage at Pulse was systematic as he worked his way through the packed club shooting people who were already down, apparently to ensure they were killed, said Angel Colon, a wounded survivor.

“I look over and he shoots the girl next to me and I was just there laying down and thinking, ‘I’m next, I’m dead,'” he said.

Mateen shot him twice more, one bullet seemingly aimed for Colon’s head striking his hand, and another hitting his hip, Colon said at Orlando Regional Medical Center, where he is one of 27 survivors being treated.

Vigils continued on Tuesday in Orlando. Hundreds of students gathered to pray and sing in the evening at the University of Central Florida. They shone cellphone flashlights during a reading of the names of the dead including two alumni.

The shooting raised questions about how the United States should respond to violent extremists at home and abroad. The Federal Bureau of Investigation questioned Mateen in 2013 and 2014 for suspected ties to Islamist militants but was unable to verify that he posed a threat.

Obama slammed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for his proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States, joining fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton in portraying Trump as unfit for the White House.

Trump criticized Obama for not using the term “radical Islamic terrorism” to describe Islamist militants. Obama replied that using that label would not accomplish anything.

ISLAMIC STATE PLEDGE

Mateen made 911 calls from the club in which he pledged loyalty to the leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose organization controls parts of Iraq and Syria.

“We could hear him talking to 911 saying that the reason why he’s doing this is because he wants America to stop bombing his country,” said Patience Carter, 20, who was trapped in a bathroom stall at the nightclub as Mateen prowled outside.

U.S. officials were investigating media reports that Mateen may have been gay but not openly so, and questioning whether that could have driven his attack, according to two people who have been briefed on the investigation and requested anonymity to discuss it.

Barbara Poma, the owner of the Pulse nightclub, speaking through a representative, denied reports Mateen had been a regular patron.

“Untrue and totally ridiculous,” spokeswoman Sara Brady said in an email when asked about the claim.

A former wife of Mateen, Sitora Yusufiy, said her ex-husband had facets of his life that he did not share with his family, such as drinking and going to nightclubs.

“He did have a different side to him that he could not open up to his father about,” Yusufiy told CNN. “It doesn’t surprise me that he might be gay.”

She has previously said he was mentally unstable and beat her and that she fled their home after four months of marriage.

(Additional reporting by Eric Beech in Washington, Barbara Liston, Bernie Woodall and Yara Bayoumy in Orlando, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Wis., Zachary Fagenson in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and Alexandria Sage in Rodeo, Calif.; Writing by Alistair Bell and Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Dominic Evans and Bill Trott)

U.S. eyes ways to toughen fight against domestic extremists

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department is considering legal changes to combat what it sees as a rising threat from domestic anti-government extremists, senior officials told Reuters, even as it steps up efforts to stop Islamic State-inspired attacks at home.

Extremist groups motivated by a range of U.S.-born philosophies present a “clear and present danger,” John Carlin, the Justice Department’s chief of national security, told Reuters in an interview. “Based on recent reports and the cases we are seeing, it seems like we’re in a heightened environment.”

Over the past year, the Justice Department has brought charges against domestic extremist suspects accused of attempting to bomb U.S. military bases, kill police officers and fire bomb a school and other buildings in a predominantly Muslim town in New York state.

But federal prosecutors tackling domestic extremists still lack an important legal tool they have used extensively in dozens of prosecutions against Islamic State-inspired suspects: a law that prohibits supporting designated terrorist groups.

Carlin and other Justice Department officials declined to say if they would ask Congress for a comparable domestic extremist statute, or comment on what other changes they might pursue to toughen the fight against anti-government extremists.

The U.S. State Department designates international terrorist organizations to which it is illegal to provide “material support.” No domestic groups have that designation, helping to create a disparity in charges faced by international extremist suspects compared to domestic ones.

A Reuters analysis of more than 100 federal cases found that domestic terrorism suspects collectively have faced less severe charges than those accused of acting on behalf of Islamic State since prosecutors began targeting that group in early 2014.

Over the past two years, 27 defendants have been charged with plotting or inciting attacks within the United States in the name of Islamic State. They have faced charges that carried a median prison sentence of 53 years – half of the defendants faced more, and half faced less.

In the same period, 27 adherents of U.S.-based anti-government ideologies have been charged with similar activity. They faced charges that carried a median prison sentence of 20 years.

Carlin said his counter-terrorism team, including a recently hired counsel, is taking a “thoughtful look at the nature and scope of the domestic terrorism threat” and helping to analyze “potential legal improvements and enhancements to better combat those threats.”

The counsel, who was appointed last October and has not been named publicly, will identify cases being prosecuted at the state level that “could arguably meet the federal definition of domestic terrorism,” a Justice Department official said.

That would give the department a direct role in more domestic extremism cases.

Recognizing that domestic threats were “rapidly evolving, and had the potential to grow,” the department in March 2015 rated disrupting such terrorists as a key component of its broader counter-terrorism efforts, officials said.

THE THREAT PENDULUM

The Justice Department aggressively pursued domestic extremists after Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people.

The government shifted its focus to international terrorism after al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001.

But in recent years anti-government activists, like those who occupied a wildlife preserve in eastern Oregon last month, have regained prominence.

As law enforcement experts confront domestic militia groups, “sovereign citizens” who do not recognize government authority, and other anti-government extremists, they also face a heightened threat from Islamic extremists like the couple who carried out the Dec. 2 shootings in San Bernardino, California.

“A new development we’re seeing is that when it comes to ISIL investigations, the flash-to-bang time from radicalization to action appears to be happening faster than with other types of terrorists,” said Michael Steinbach, the head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division.

As a result, government agents are quick to investigate people who appear sympathetic toward Islamic State, current and former officials say. But some say the government has been overzealous in its pursuit of Islamic State suspects.

Similar actions by extremist suspects have yielded sharply disparate sentences.

Eight Islamic State-related defendants have been sentenced so far, to prison terms that range from three to 20 years, the Reuters review found. Over the same period, 18 domestic extremists have been sentenced to terms from one day to 12 years.

Prosecutors say Harlem Suarez, 23, of Key West, Florida, tried to buy a bomb last year from an undercover FBI agent as he plotted attacks on behalf of Islamic State. He faces a possible sentence of life in prison and has pleaded not guilty.

Michael Sibley, 67, left two unexploded pipe bombs and a Koran in a park in Roswell, Georgia in 2014 in what he later told police was an attempt to highlight the danger of Islamic terrorism. He pleaded guilty and faces a maximum of five years in prison.

“A different standard is being applied to Muslims than to other people,” said Daryl Johnson, a former counterterrorism expert at the Department of Homeland Security who now works as a law enforcement consultant.

“SPRING-LOADED”

Steinbach said that the FBI can never open up any type of investigation “just on the basis of race, creed, or religion,”

But he added that federal agents are “spring-loaded” to open investigations into Americans who support groups on the State Department list of designated terrorist organizations.

The maximum penalty for supporting one of these groups has been raised from 10 years to 20 years in prison since 2001.

It has been applied in 58 of the government’s 79 Islamic State cases since 2014 against defendants who engaged in a wide range of activity, from traveling to Syria to fight alongside Islamic State to raising money for a friend who wished to do so.

Judges usually issue sentences below the maximum, but some charges trigger sentencing “enhancements” that raise the baseline sentence a judge can issue – and the material support charge raises it more than most.

Domestic groups enjoy greater constitutional protections because being a member of those groups, no matter how extreme their rhetoric, is not a crime.

Prosecutors can bring “material support” terrorism charges against defendants who aren’t linked to groups on the State Department’s list, but they have only done so twice against non-jihadist suspects since the law was enacted in 1994. The law, which prohibits supporting people who have been deemed to be terrorists by their actions, carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Current and former federal prosecutors say they rarely consider that statute in domestic terrorism cases because it is often hard to convince a jury that someone who is not affiliated with a foreign group can be guilty of terrorism.

William Wilmoth, a former federal prosecutor who invoked that law in a 1996 case against a West Virginia militia member, said he was surprised to hear that it isn’t used more often.

“These guys have every right to have off-center political views,” he said. “But when they made affirmative steps to blow up an actual federal facility… we thought it was an important place for us to go and prosecute.”

(Reporting by Julia Harte, Julia Edwards and Andy Sullivan; editing by Stuart Grudgings)

Man who allegedly gave hacked personal info to Islamic State appears in court

A man accused of hacking the personal information of more than 1,300 federal employees and military members and releasing them to the Islamic State made his first appearance in a United States court on Wednesday, prosecutors said.

Ardit Ferizi, a 20-year-old Kosovo citizen, faces charges related to terrorism, hacking and identity theft, the Department of Justice said in a statement.

Ferizi was living in Malaysia last October when local law enforcement detained him at the United States’ request, prosecutors said. He later waived extradition.

According to a criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Ferizi is believed to be the leader of a Kosovar hacking group. He’s accused of hacking a United States-based online retailer’s server, stealing the personal information of about 100,000 people and then sending the data of 1,351 military personnel and federal employees to members of the Islamic State.

A pro-Islamic State Twitter account posted a link to the information in August, prosecutors allege, and “names, e-mail addresses, e-mail passwords, locations and phone numbers” of the 1,351 employees were visible in a 30-page document that included a warning message.

According to the complaint, part of the document stated: “we are in your emails and computer systems, watching and recording your every move, we have your names and addresses, we are in your emails and social media accounts, we are extracting confidential data and passing on your personal information to the soldiers of the khilafah, who soon with the permission of Allah will strike at your necks in your own lands!”

Court records indicate charges against Ferizi include providing material support to the Islamic State, unauthorized access to a computer and aggravated identity theft.

If convicted, prosecutors said he could face up to 35 years in prison.

“As alleged, Ardit Ferizi is a terrorist hacker who provided material support to ISIL by stealing the personally identifiable information of U.S. service members and federal employees and providing it to ISIL for use against those employees,” Assistant Attorney General John P. Carlin said in a statement released after Ferizi was arrested in October. “This case is a first of its kind and, with these charges, we seek to hold Ferizi accountable for his theft of this information and his role in ISIL’s targeting of U.S. government employees.”

Ferizi is the latest individual who has been charged with Islamic State-related crimes in the United States. In December, a report from George Washington University’s Program on Extremism said at least 71 individuals were accused of such offenses since March 2014.

Milwaukee man arrested for machine gun possession allegedly planned mass shooting

Authorities foiled a 23-year-old Milwaukee man’s alleged plans to commit a deadly mass shooting at a Masonic temple in the city, prosecutors announced Tuesday afternoon.

Samy Mohamed Hamzeh was charged with possessing machine guns and a silencer, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin said in a news release.

Prosecutors said that law enforcement had been investigating Hamzeh since September, and that he had been communicating with two confidential sources since October.

Prosecutors allege Hamzeh toured the temple with those sources on January 19, and later discussed plans to use machine guns and silencers to kill dozens of people there. Hamzeh allegedly told the sources the event “will be known all over the world” and jihadists “will be proud of us.”

Prosecutors allege Hamzeh had been planning to travel to Jordan and attack Israeli soldiers and citizens in the West Bank, but ditched those plans and shifted his focus to the United States.

He was arrested after allegedly purchasing two automatic weapons and a silencer from undercover FBI agents on Monday, according to the news release.

In a statement, Robert J. Shields, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Milwaukee office, said the arrest thwarted “an attack that could have resulted in significant injury and/or loss of life.”

An FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force was involved in the investigation.

The news release includes several comments that Hamzeh allegedly told the sources during their recorded conversations, in which he explained his goals and strategies for the attack.

He allegedly said that one of the three of them needed to guard the temple’s main door and “spray anyone he finds” while others went upstairs to “spray everyone” in a meeting.

“We will shoot them, kill them and get out,” he allegedly said, according to the release. “We will walk and walk, after a while, we will be covered as if it is cold, and we’ll take the covers off and dump them in a corner and keep on walking, as if nothing happened, as if everything is normal. But one has to stand on the door, because if no one stood at the door, people will be going in and out, if people came in from outside and found out what is going on, everything is busted.”

Hamzeh also allegedly told the sources that “we will eliminate everyone,” prosecutors said.

“Thirty is excellent,” Hamzeh allegedly commented to the sources. “If I got out, after killing thirty people, I will be happy 100%. … 100% happy, because these 30 will terrify the world.”