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Judge denies bail for Lackawanna man accused of recruiting for ISIS

U.S. Magistrate Hugh B. Scott denied bail Friday for Arafat M. Nagi, who is accused of recruiting for ISIS and planning to fight for the terrorist group.

Nagi of Lackawanna will remain in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service until a preliminary hearing Aug. 12.

Scott had to consider whether Nagi was a flight risk and a danger to the community, as the government contends.

Finding Nagi a flight risk, Scott cited Nagi’s extensive international travel and his possession of travel documents, including a passport and enhanced driver’s license.

And in determining that Nagi poses a danger to the community, Scott cited a prior order of protection and prior violent felony offenses – including Nagi’s threat to behead his daughter, along with his recent purchase of tactical combat gear.

Scott’s ruling followed approximately 40 minutes of arguments by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Lynch and Defense attorney Jeremy D. Schwartz.

Nagi was arrested early Wednesday after FBI agents determined he was preparing to leave for Turkey and make his way into Syria to serve as a soldier for ISIS, also known as ISIL. A year-long FBI investigation had revealed that Nagi posted photos on social media supporting members of ISIS, and endorsed beheadings and other acts of violence committed by members of the group.

During Friday’s detention hearing, Lynch chronologically presented Nagi’s postings on social media, online purchases of combat gear and overseas travel in recent years. Nagi had tried to buy a ticket to travel to Turkey in mid-August, he said.

“It was at that point the government decided to arrest [him] and search his residence,” Lynch said.

Lynch identified several pieces of evidence seized during Wednesday’s searches, including a dagger with a hooked blade that was hanging in a sheath on a wall; a sword, wrapped in plastic garbage bags, which has yet to undergo a forensic examination; and multiple cell phones and tablets found in his bedroom. Lynch said search warrants would be sought to search the electronic devices.

As photographs of the dagger and sword were displayed on a large screen in the courtroom, Nagi stared impassively at the same images on a monitor on the defense table.

“We have witnesses, we have his tweets ... text messages ... knives and the combat gear,” Lynch said, referring to clothing and accessories, such as night-vision goggles, that Nagi purchased online.

“All of this, these are in line with the actions Mr. Nagi’s already engaged in,” Lynch told the judge.

“There is no greater threat to the community,” than Nagi, Lynch said.

But Schwartz, Nagi’s assigned counsel, told the judge the government’s claims are “overstated,” including Nagi’s alleged personal history of violence, and based on strong inference.

“I don’t think the government has firmly established there is this Twitter account,” Schwartz said. And even if there is, he questioned whether what’s been said is enough to charge Nagi.

“Political speech is allowed in this country,” Schwartz said. “People say a lot of things that they don’t necessarily mean.”

As for his trips to Turkey and into Yemen, where Nagi owns property, Schwartz said: “None of the travel was illegal; all of it was above-board. ... None of it was hidden.”

FBI agents took three electronic devices from Nagi when he returned from his most recent trip to Turkey, according to his attorney.

“He didn’t flee then. He didn’t make any efforts to hide himself,” Schwartz said. “They haven’t shown he’s a risk of flight.”

Schwartz said the government didn’t prove Nagi is a danger to the community, either.

“They haven’t shown clear and convincing evidence he’s a danger to anyone,” Schwartz said. “Even his own statements don’t say definitively ... ‘I want to join ISIL ... I want to fight for ISIL.”

Schwartz argued for home incarceration, with the family home as collateral.