Sun. May 26th, 2024

Washington — A 20-year-old Jordanian national living in Texas allegedly trained with others of a “radical mindset” to “possibly commit an attack” after he illegally obtained firearms, according to federal investigators. 

Court documents reveal Sohaib Abuayyash — who at one point traveled to the U.S. on a Palestinian passport — was arrested in Houston on Oct. 19, after investigators said he had been “conducting physical training” and “trained with weapons to possibly commit an attack.” 

Abuayyash is currently charged with one count of unlawful possession of a firearm by someone with a nonimmigrant visa. Details described in court documents allege he spoke of martyrdom in support of a religious cause. 

“He has viewed specific and detailed content posted by radical organizations on the internet including lessons on how to construct bombs or explosive devices,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Christina Bryan wrote when she ordered the defendant detained last week, pending trial, after a sealed hearing on the matter: “Defendant has made statements to others that support the killing of individuals of particular religious faiths.”

Abuayyash’s public defender declined to comment.

During congressional testimony on Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray mentioned a case in which an arrested man in Houston had been “studying how to build bombs and posted online about his support for killing Jews.”

Multiple law enforcement officials familiar with the matter confirmed to CBS News that Wray was referencing Abuayyash’s case. The defendant’s lawyer did not respond to CBS News’ requests for comment. 

Abuayyash entered the U.S. on a non-immigrant visa that expired in 2019, according to a court order, and he has since applied for asylum and obtained work authorization. 

Prosecutors alleged he unlawfully possessed firearms while living in Texas and was seen on multiple social media videos firing an AR-style rifle at a firing range. Although the footage was accompanied by a caption claiming the firearm being fired was an “airsoft gun,” the FBI contends “the guns…are firearms as defined by federal law and not airsoft guns.” 

Sohaib Abuayyash at firing range

Government exhibit

Investigators say the defendant, along with others, visited a handful of firing ranges. Security camera footage from one of those facilities obtained by the FBI purportedly showed Abuayyash and an unnamed individual possessing and firing multiple rifles and pistols, according to charging documents. 

In one instance at another facility on Sept. 24, security footage allegedly shows Abuayyash being congratulated by individuals identified as “MD” and “AJ” in court documents for hitting his target that “appears to be a human silhouette and multiple bullet holes can be observed in the target.”

The Justice Department asked a federal court to detain Abuayyash pending trial and according to court records, a hearing was held under seal on Oct. 24. According to the judge’s order that detained him, Abuayyash “has made statements that he wants to go to Gaza to fight.”

While much of the charged conduct described in court papers occurred before Hamas’ attack on Israel earlier this month, the FBI director referenced Abuayyash’s case as part of a broader warning to lawmakers of the evolving threat landscape the U.S. faces as a result of the attacks and Israel’s response. 

“Here in the United States, our most immediate concern is that violent extremists—individuals or small groups—will draw inspiration from the events in the Middle East to carry out attacks against Americans going about their daily lives,” Wray said Tuesday, “That includes not just homegrown violent extremists inspired by a foreign terrorist organization, but also domestic violent extremists targeting Jewish or Muslim communities.” 

Wray said the FBI was not tracking any “imminent credible threat from a foreign terrorist organization.”

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