Man accused of Edmonton jewelry store heist to fund ISIS fighters

Man accused of Edmonton jewelry store heist to fund ISIS fighters

An Alberta man facing extradition to the U.S. is accused of robbing a jewelry store in Edmonton to finance the terrorist activities of relatives and a friend who fought overseas with ISIS.

Abdullahi Ahmed Abdullahi, 33, is charged with providing material support to terrorists, according to a U.S. indictment.

The indictment also sheds new light on a case first uncovered by CBC of three cousins from Edmonton who joined the ISIS ranks and died on the battlefield in Syria.

Mahad Hirsi and brothers Hamsa and Hersi Kariye, along with a fourth man from Minnesota, Hanad Mohallim, died in November 2014.

The young men are cousins of Abdullahi, who is also accused of planning to join their ranks overseas.

"Inshallah (we'll) be all together on the front lines just like I been dreaming about lately," Abdullahi allegedly wrote to Mohallim in March 2014, according to the indictment document.

The U.S. government says it was the efforts of Abdullahi and his circle that allowed the four cousins, plus another childhood friend, to travel from North America to Syria to become foreign fighters.

RCMP arrested Abdullahi in Fort McMurray on Sept. 15, 2017, after U.S. authorities filed an extradition request. He has been in custody since then, and is scheduled to appear before a judge in Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench for an extradition hearing on May 31.

"Abdullahi committed an armed robbery of a jewelry store for the purpose of financing the travel and efforts of co-conspirators in supporting and joining terrorist fighters engaged in terrorist activity in Syria, including the killing, kidnapping and maiming of persons," states the U.S. indictment, filed on March 10, 2017, in a California court.

Abdullahi is accused of wiring money through Western Union to San Diego to help pay for the flights to Turkey for a friend and cousin who left the U.S. in March 2014.

Information was sealed

The charges and documents were sealed until Jan. 12, when a 10-year prison sentence was handed down to Marchello McCain, a friend of the Edmonton cousins, in San Diego. McCain pleaded guilty to possession of firearms and lying to U.S. authorities investigating his brother's terrorist activities.

McCain's brother is Douglas McCain, who gained notoriety as the first American known to die fighting for the Islamic State.

Douglas grew up in Minnesota, where he became friends with the Kariye family, who immigrated from Somalia with ties to Minneapolis, San Diego and Edmonton, court documents say.

It's not clear how the close-knit group was first radicalized. But the indictment reveals extensive planning and fundraising efforts.

Between August 2013 and November 2014, Abdullahi, who was living in Alberta at the time, allegedly conspired with Douglas and others to provide personnel and money for terrorist activities.

U.S. authorities say Abdullahi was among those who encouraged others to steal from the "infidels" to pay for airline tickets but didn't stop there.

On Jan. 9, 2014, Abdullahi and two accomplices robbed a jewelry store in Edmonton, but struggled to pawn the loot, the indictment says. Abdullahi is scheduled to appear in Edmonton provincial court Aug. 9  on a charge of armed robbery.

Abdullahi, and others he enlisted, wired a total of about $3,100 to Douglas, says the document. A portion of the money was used to pay for Douglas and Mohallim to fly to Turkey in March 2014, where they met up with the cousins from Edmonton.  

Abdullahi also allegedly wired money to intermediaries in Gaziantep, Turkey, 64 kilometres from the Syrian border.

The case laid out by the U.S. government also offers new insight into how their network apparently recruited family and friends and operated covertly to avoid detection by law enforcement.

Coded language in emails 

After Douglas arrived in Syria, the group communicated through draft emails in a shared account using coded language and sports terminology, documents say.

Abdullahi went by the moniker "Phish." The Canadian cousins were referred to as "Sleepy," "Farmer" and "Zubayr."

The term "three point shot" was used to praise firearms marksmanship. "Sub us out" described being killed in battle while "B's" referred to bodies.

"I heard yall got b's under yall belt," Abdullahi allegedly wrote in an email near the end of 2013 before commending one of the Kariye brothers. "I heard (his) three point shot is no joke."

In another message, one of the Kariye brothers allegedly urged Abdullahi to come to Syria before they were killed in battle.

"It's an important time to catch the caravan," says an email cited in the court documents. "The playoffs is getting more intense and the manz over here (tried) to sub us out the other week."

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca
@andreahuncar