An Uber cab driver from Brooklyn was arrested Monday on federal charges that he allegedly traveled to Turkey and Yemen last year to join ISIS and expressed support for a Nice-style attack with a garbage truck in Times Square, authorities said.
Mohamed Rafik Naji, 37, revealed his support of the terrorist organization on his Facebook page, including a photo of an ISIS flag, videos of jihadists engaged in fighting, and a YouTube link of an ISIS spokesman exhorting attacks on Western targets, according to court papers.
Last summer, Naji allegedly expressed support to an informant for carrying out a deadly attack in Times Square with a garbage truck crushing pedestrian just like the ISIS truck attack in Nice, France in July.
"They (ISIS) want an operation in Times Square," Naji told the informant on July 19.
"They want an operation in Times Square, reconnaissance groups already put out a scene, the Islamic State already put up scenes of Times Square ... I said that was an indication for whoever is smart to know."
Gov. Cuomo said in a statement that New Yorkers "must remain vigilant in the face of hate and intolerance" and noted that authorities do not have any specific terrorist threat at the present time.
Defense lawyer Susan Kellman cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the Times Square comments attributed to Naji. "We don't know if he actually said those words if or if they were fed to him by the confidential source," Kellman said.
Previously, Naji had been persistent in his efforts to join ISIS, Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Robert Capers pointed out. Naji apparently made it to the ISIS battlefield in his Yemeni homeland.
He allegedly emailed his wife from Yemen in March 2015 that "it's very hard to get in I'm on my 5 (sic) try ... keep trying if not m have to go from somewhere else."
Naji sent the wife another email from Yemen on April 21, 2015 with the subject line, "First day on the job," and a video attached in which gunfire could be heard, according to the complaint unsealed in Brooklyn Federal Court.
The unidentified wife was also wiring thousands of dollars to Naji to support his adventure.
He is charged with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization.
The feds made the arrest three days before Thanksgiving as the NYPD remains on high alert for an ISIS inspired attack at the holiday parade. ISIS recently published an alarming article in its English language magazine calling the parade an "excellent target."
The Thanksgiving Parade is not mentioned in Naji's complaint, but the court papers note that "jihadist propaganda has long counseled followers to commit acts of violence like the one describe by Naji."
Naji appeared briefly in Brooklyn Federal Court wearing a black sweatshirt and black basketball shorts. He was also dressed all in black attire in selfie photo he emailed his wife from Yemen, but in that photo he was wearing a tactical vest, armed with a large knife and the lower half of his face was covered with a black and gray bandana, court papers state.
Magistrate Judge Robert Levy ordered Naji held without bail. Naji has a wife and three children in Yemen, and another wife with whom he is estranged in New York, Kellman said.