It feels like deja vu. Once again, a member of Lacka-wanna’s Yemeni community has been charged with a crime related to terrorism. It harkens back to the tense days after the 9/11 terror attacks when six Lackawannans were charged and ultimately convicted of terror charges.
This is different, at once more troubling and less surprising. The arrest of Afarat M. Nagi is disturbing because he was, according to prosecutors, attempting to link up with the terrorist group ISIS, which sprawls over parts of Syria and Iraq and whose savagery is grotesque beyond understanding. No worse, perhaps, than al-Qaida, which takes delight in slaughtering thousands of innocent people at once, but even more determined to revolt the world.
And, yet, it is hardly surprising that someone from this part of the country may have been tempted to join ISIS, simply because it cannot be surprising in any community today. ISIS is aggressively seeking to recruit members from the West, including the United States, either to join the group in the Middle East or to turn on their own countrymen as lone-wolf terrorists. As a relative of Nagi’s told The News, “I think he is influenced by things he sees on the Internet and on TV about ISIS.” He said he believes Nagi was trying to recruit him.
Why here? Well, why not?
Questions are already arising as to whether Nagi was truly a committed terrorist or, as a 44-year-old relying on family for financial help, just a talker. That theme will be repeated many times in the weeks and months ahead, we are sure, but in the meantime, assuming the information presented by investigators to be correct, Nagi’s arrest was necessary and urgent.
U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. said people in Lackawanna feared Nagi because of his vocal support for ISIS and that he tried to join the organization. Some of them told investigators that Nagi “espoused violent jihad and posed a threat to those of us in the United States,” Hochul said.
On Twitter, Nagi repeatedly celebrated beheadings, torture and other acts of terror. Among them was ISIS’s action in burning a captured Jordanian pilot to death, because the pilot was part of a military force fighting ISIS. “Do to them what they do to you,” Nagi said, according to a witness.
What is more, if the facts are correct, it’s not a sudden conversion. In 2002, authorities said, Nagi cheered the actions of the Lackawanna Six, who traveled to Afghanistan to train with al-Qaida and even meet with its leader, Osama bin Laden. Two years ago, he threatened to shoot and behead his own daughter.
He was arrested on Wednesday, authorities said, because he was planning this week to leave the country and offer to fight with ISIS. He is not charged with planning any specific acts of terrorism in this country, but with seeking to provide material support to a terrorist group. If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison.
Nagi’s attorney, Jeremy D. Schwartz, said his client “absolutely denies trying to join” ISIS or “trying to recruit other people to join.”
Members of Lackawanna’s Yemeni community are understandably nervous about the broader community reaction to this news. Dr. Khalid J. Qazi, president of Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York, said he hopes to see no repeat of the fearful stresses that bore down on area Muslims after the arrests of the Lackawanna Six. He shouldn’t have to worry.
There has been no suggestion of organized support of terrorism within Erie County’s Muslim community, only actions by occasional individuals. Indeed, Hochul has praised the cooperation law enforcement has received from Qazi and his organization.
Still, the worries among area Muslims are real, and understood even by its youths. “It’s a bad situation in the community because this reflects on all the Muslims,” said Abdul Albaneh, 15, a student at Lackawanna High School.
But he also offered an observation that demonstrates a mature understanding about the nature of responsibility.
“I want to make something clear,” Abdul said. “If someone from our religion does something, it does not reflect on everyone. That person is responsible for what he did.”
It’s true and, especially in the days ahead, it will be good to remember.