On Nov. 19, the FBI announced it had charged four men for plotting to join al-Qaeda and the Taliban and kill American targets.
Perhaps the defendants, who are all either U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, deserved to be arrested. However, the way the FBI gathered evidence against them should send chills down the spine of anyone who values free speech and other civil liberties.
To build their case, investigators relied heavily on content the four suspects posted, “liked,” commented on, and shared via their Facebook accounts.
The case begs the question: What is stopping the Feds from building a terrorism case against Occupy participants, anti-war activists, or others for sharing – or just “liking” – content that the government views as radical or extremist?
The defendants in this case are known by aliases listed in the criminal complaint:
- Sohiel Omar Kabir, 34, a naturalized U.S. citizen, born in Afghanistan
- Ralph Deleon, 23, a lawful permanent resident alien, born in the Philippines
- Miguel Alejandro “Santana” Vidriales, 21, a lawful permanent resident, born in Mexico whose U.S. citizenship application is pending
- Arifeen David Gojali, 21, a United States citizen
Four pages of the criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in California show how FBI agents combed through the defendants’ Facebook accounts looking for “radical pro-jihad content” to help build their case.
Below are quoted excerpts from the complaint, some of which seems to impinge upon the defendants’ rights to vocally oppose government action in Afghanistan – or just review news reports.
- Public items posted by Kabir to his social media accounts include photographs of himself, non-extremist content, radical Islamist content, and items reflecting a mistrust of mainstream media, abuses by the government, conspiracy theories, abuses by law enforcement, and the war in Afghanistan.
- Kabir has “shared” several postings with Santana and/or Deleon, both of whom have “liked” or commented on several other postings by Kabir.
- Portions of the social media show that Deleon and Santana “liked”postings on Kabir’s Facebook page as early as May 2011.
- Radical postings include videos and links to videos of Al-Qa’ida leader Anwar Al-Awlaqi and his lectures, jihad-based videos regarding Afghanistan and elsewhere, videos depicting mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan and elsewhere, videos depicting terrorist training camps and related activities, videos depicting improvised explosive device (“IED”) attacks, and articles regarding the death of American soldiers in Afghanistan.
The case against the defendants also includes other evidence, including remarks Santana and Deleon told a confidential FBI source about plans to travel to Afghanistan to engage in “violent jihad.” The defendants described potential targets for violent attacks, including overseas American military personnel and bases, according to the criminal complaint.
Members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force apprehended Santana, Deleon, and Gojali on Nov. 16 without incident. Kabir is in custody in Afghanistan. If convicted, the defendants face a statutory maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison.
Will you think twice about clicking “like” and sharing posts after reading this report?
Comment below at your own risk.