Homeland Security

Chicago-Area Man Charged With Running Pro-ISIS Media Operation

The Justice Department has charged a Chicago-area man, Ashraf al-Safoo, with conspiring to materially support ISIS, saying that he led a pro-ISIS media operation.

Al-Safoo, a 34-year-old native of Mosul, Iraq, moved to the U.S. in 2008 and later became a naturalized citizen.

He took orders directly from ISIS officials. Through social media, he spread propaganda on behalf of the terror group, helping ISIS to recruit and encouraging supporters to conduct terror attacks.

A Justice Department press release describes the extent of his online activity:

According to the complaint, Al Safoo is a member of Khattab Media Foundation, an internet-based organization that has sworn an oath of allegiance to ISIS and created and disseminated ISIS propaganda online. Al Safoo and other members of Khattab have created and posted pro-ISIS videos, articles, essays and infographics across multiple social media platforms, at the direction and in coordination with ISIS, the complaint states. Much of the propaganda created and distributed by Khattab promotes violent jihad on behalf of ISIS and ISIS’s media office, the complaint states.

On Nov. 4, 2017, according to the complaint, Al Safoo reposted in a social media application for Khattab members an encouragement for people to help ISIS in any way possible, including by offering money or themselves. Al Safoo wrote, “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,” the complaint states. On May 23, 2018, according to the complaint, Al Safoo posted on multiple social media groups directions and encouragement for Khattab’s ISIS propaganda efforts: “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.”

The complaint cites several images and videos created by Khattab and disseminated online. The postings include images of violence during the Christmas season, celebrations of terrorist attacks and mass shootings in the United States, and encouragement for “lone wolf” terrorist attacks in western countries. Because the material promoted violence, Khattab members frequently had their social media accounts suspended or deleted, the complaint states. The members sought access to hacked social media accounts and created accounts under fake names and identifiers. These accounts were then distributed to Khattab members to use in disseminating ISIS propaganda, according to the complaint.

The Khattab Media Foundation operated by al-Safoo was named after a Saudi al-Qaeda member who innovated the use of media in the 1990s, particularly videos calling for jihad, and who later became the leader of a terror group in Chechnya.

Among Khattab’s most prominent effort was a 2 minute, 49 second video in English entitled “The Las Vegas Conquest.” It was distributed just days after the mass shooting in Las Vegas in October 2017 that killed 58 people.

The video featured a CGI reenactment of the Las Vegas shooting, identifying the shooter as “Abu Abdul Barr al-Amriki” and warning of future attacks. Despite ISIS claims, there has been no evidence made public linking the terror group with the killer, Stephen Paddock.

Among the other Khattab media campaigns cited in the Justice Department’s criminal complaint is another video released on December 27, 2017, entitled “Our Gifts are Ready.”

The video shows animation of families gathered around a Christmas tree with presents underneath. A narrator then says in English: “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.”

The video concludes with more animation of people gathered around a Christmas tree, only with a man in black standing behind them and holding a detonator, which he then presses, and pictures of major American and European cities appear.

Around the same time, Khattab circulated on social media a graphic with English and Arabic writing saying, “The Khalafahs Presents Are on Their Way,” and picturing a beheaded Santa Claus figure.

Khattab also circulated several graphics threatening attacks on Christians following the December 30, 2017, attack on a Coptic Christian church in Helwan, Egypt. One of the graphics reads: “Blood and destruction are on its way, O you worshipers of the Cross.”

Guided by al-Safoo, Khattab also encouraged so-called “lone wolf” terror attacks in Western countries.

Al-Safoo faces 20 years in prison on the conspiracy charge.

The Chicago Sun-Times also reports that al-Safoo’s younger brother is serving a 12-year prison sentence for robbing two gas stations and a doughnut shop in 2017, during which one victim was sliced with a knife along the face.