Homeland Security

'Fair-Skinned, Not of Arab Descent' U.S. Brothers Accused of Terror in Tunisia ID'd

The two Michigan brothers arrested on terrorism charges by Tunisian authorities moved to the town where they were arrested just days ago and have a history of trouble with the law.

Law enforcement officials in the North African country showed NBC News the passport for one of the brothers, Patrick Alan Lawwill, which was issued in July 2015. Tunisia Live ran a photo of the passport with information obscured expect for his name and photo, in which he is bearded.

Lawwill, 31, lived in Lansing, Mich., according to media reports and a search of public records.

Paperwork for the second brother wasn’t shown to media, but he is believed to be Nathan Lawwill, 32. Tunisia Live reported that “both brothers appear to have lengthy criminal records, including charges of domestic violence and, in one instance, indications of mental health issues.”

PJM uncovered a 2009 mugshot of Nathan Lawwill from the Pinellas Park Police; it was unclear when he lived in St. Petersburg, Fla., and when he lived in Lansing, but his birthplace is listed as Michigan. Nathan Lawwill served nearly nine months for felony domestic battery by strangulation and witness tampering. He also has a MySpace page with no posts but photos of a sword and posing shirtless in front of a bathroom mirror.

nathanlawwill

Tunisia’s Jawhara FM reported that the Lawwills, who were converts from Christianity to Islam, had been staying in Tunis for about a year and moved only this past Sunday to Jendouba, the city where the “bearded, fair-skinned, not of Arab descent” brothers rented a house and suspicious neighbors called the cops.

They reportedly communicated with terror groups through Facebook.

They said they were computer science students at the University of Jendouba, but Tunisia Live reported that appears to have been a cover as they were never enrolled there.

One of the brothers was said to have entered into an urfi, or Islamic union not registered with the state, with a Tunisian woman, who was arrested in Tunis on Tuesday. A security official told Reuters that she had traveled to Syria.

MosaiqueFM reported that the brothers had recently converted and admitted to investigators that they wanted to “apply the Sharia.” Jihadist materials and plans were reportedly discovered when cops raided their home. Nessma TV reported that those plans outlined intentions to “blow up a number of institutions.” An official told Reuters that the jihadist materials included videos and photos praising ISIS. Tunisia Live reported that the brothers had United Arab Emirates stamps in their passports.

The State Department, which has not commented on the arrests due to “privacy considerations,” updated its Tunisia travel warning on Sept. 29 to warn U.S. citizens to “avoid travel to southeastern Tunisia along the Libyan border as well as the mountainous areas in the country’s west, due to the threat of terrorism.”

“Groups of militants continue to operate in the mountains of Western Tunisia, including Jebel Chaambi, Sammama, and Selloum. The Tunisian government continues security force operations against Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AAS-T), ISIL, and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM),” the warning said.

Jendouba, where the brothers had just moved, was singled out as a city U.S. citizens should avoid “due to the unpredictable security environment.”