A troubled ex-convict from Rochester who “hated everything” about the United States found a sympathetic online correspondent in a person who claimed to be with ISIS in Syria.
Encouraged by his anonymous friend overseas, Emanuel L. Lutchman, 25, who converted to Islam in prison, plotted a New Year’s Eve attack on a Rochester-area restaurant. By killing American unbelievers, Lutchman allegedly hoped to prove his loyalty to ISIS, and to get help traveling to Syria and joining the battle there. He reportedly told his ISIS confidante that he had enlisted the help of some “brothers” with the know-how and resources to run the terrorist operation.
Unknown to Lutchman, those “brothers” were working with the FBI.
Lutchman was arrested Wednesday by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and charged with attempting to provide material support – himself – to a foreign terrorist organization. He was arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marian W. Payson on Thursday and is due back in court Jan. 8. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a possible $250,000 fine if convicted.
The charges were announced by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. and Adam S. Cohen, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Buffalo.
The FBI’s official criminal complaint paints an image of an unfocused and unfunded recruit to the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL. Lutchman expressed no interest in martyrdom, and even tells his online ally that he has to be careful because he doesn’t want to go back to prison.
He also is quoted as telling the FBI’s informant that his plan for the attack is to be “in and out” and they should make it “quiet and simple ” – showing every intention of making a clean get-away.
This is in contrast to some of the options he considered for the bloodshed, including planting a pressure-cooker bomb, kidnapping hostages – who would later be killed – and committing the murders with a machete and dagger.
Lutchman’s ultimate goal was to get out of the country, according to the FBI. At one point the married father of a 2-year-old tells the informant, “I’m ready to lose my family.”
That concurs with what Lutchman’s grandmother Beverley Carridice told NBC News.
She said that her grandson, who has a long history of mental illness, had been estranged from family members recently and attempted suicide at least once. She also told NBC that, while she knew he had converted from Christianity to Islam, she never heard him express any radical ideas and that he called her after his arrest and said the case was “a sting … they set him up.”
Lutchman has spent his adult life in trouble with the law. In 2006, he was sentenced to five years in prison with 2½ years post-release supervision after being convicted of second degree robbery. The Department of Corrections reported that he was released in September 2010 but violated his probation and returned to prison in June 2011. Released again in April 2012, he was back in prison three months later. After serving another 11 months, he got out again in June 2013, but returned in December 2013 to serve the remaining month of the maximum sentence.
Some of his violations were connected to “mental hygiene” issues, according to authorities, which generally indicate that he was deemed to be a danger to himself or others.
By Monday, he was telling the paid FBI informant that, despite some logistical problems, he was ready to go with the attack. So they drove by the restaurant, whose name has not been released, that Lutchman thought would be a good target.
He is quoted as saying, “I will take a life. I don’t have a problem with that.”
He said they should wear masks so they wouldn’t get caught.
With no money to build a bomb or get firearms, Lutchman also reportedly decided they should use knives for the attack.
With a rough plan in place, he and the informant went to a Rochester Walmart Tuesday and bought two black ski masks, zip-ties, two knives, a machete, duct tape, ammonia and latex gloves for $40, which the informant paid.
“It’s going to get real after this. It’s just you, me and the Lord,” Lutchman reportedly said. “We gotta do this, we gotta do this precise. If we grab somebody, they can’t live. They may identify the vehicle. They can’t live.”
Members of the Rochester Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested Lutchman when he was in a car with the informant on Thursday. According to the complaint, the informant was paid close to $20,000 in the year that he assisted with the investigation.
The arrest drew immediate national and international attention, although some more distant media mistakenly said initially that the attack was planned for New York City and that Lutchman was from the Rochdale neighborhood of Queens.
Late Thursday, Rochester city officials, as a precaution, canceled the city’s outdoor New Year’s Eve fireworks celebration.
U.S. Attorney Hochul said in a press releases after the arrest, “What began as an ISIL directive to harm the community ended with the arrest of this defendant and a message for any other individuals considering similar behavior – you will be caught, you will be prosecuted, and you will be punished.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued a statement calling domestic terrorism like that planned by Lutchman “the new normal of global terrorism.”
“Law enforcement has once again thwarted a potential lone wolf terrorist attack encouraged by ISIS,” said U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. “It is now clear that ISIS is focusing on identifying disaffected individuals here in America and encouraging them to act as lone wolves to commit evil acts. As a nation, we must redouble our efforts and focus on preventing this emerging threat, as law enforcement successfully did here.”
In a separate case, a Rochester pizzeria owner earlier this month admitted he tried to recruit ISIS supporters. In that case, Mufid Elfgeeh, a 31-year-old small-business owner struggling to make ends meet, admitted to trying to recruit three people, two of them FBI informants, to join and fight with the group overseas.
Elfgeeh’s conviction on two charges of trying to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization made him one of the first Americans convicted of recruiting ISIS sympathizers.
Another Western New York resident also was charged with supporting ISIS.
Arafat M. Nagi, of Lackawanna, was arrested in July after an FBI investigation concluded that he was preparing to leave for Turkey and eventually travel to Syria to serve with the group. The FBI also says Nagi posted pro-ISIS photos on social media and has indicated support for its acts of violence.
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