Iraqi immigrant pleads guilty in federal court in Oregon to supporting Islamic State

Jun 13, 2023, 3:12 PM | Updated: 4:50 pm

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An immigrant from Iraq pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Portland, Oregon, to conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State group by producing and distributing propaganda and recruiting materials online.

Hawazen Sameer Mothafar, 33, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is scheduled to be sentenced on January 11 by U.S. District Court Judge Marco A. Hernández. Mothafar was arrested in November 2020 following an FBI investigation.

The case underscores the Islamic State group’s focus on maintaining an online presence, or “digital caliphate,” after the group — also known as ISIS — lost most of its self-declared caliphate in territory it seized in Iraq and Syria by late 2017.

“One of the primary mechanisms ISIS uses to threaten the West is its media outlets,” Christine Abizaid, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in January. “The most prolific ISIS threat to the United States or other Western countries is through inspired attackers who are vulnerable to influence by ISIS messaging.”

Mothafar immigrated to the U.S. from Iraq in 2014. An indictment handed down in November 2020 by a federal grand jury alleged that Mothafar conspired with Islamic State group members to create and edit publications and articles supporting the group, and also provided technical support to its members overseas on social media and email accounts. Authorities said he distributed articles about how to kill and maim with a knife and encouraged readers to carry out attacks.

The resident of the Portland suburb of Troutdale had originally pleaded not guilty to charges of providing material support to a designated terrorist organization and conspiring to provide that support. After several postponements, the trial was supposed to have started on June 6, but Mothafar’s attorney instead told the court that Mothafar intended to change his plea.

On Tuesday, Mothafar pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, the U.S. attorney’s office in Oregon said in a statement. Mothafar, who has physical disabilities and uses a wheelchair, has been out of jail because he is considered a low flight risk, with limits set on his travel and the use of electronic devices. The same release conditions still apply, said Kevin Sonoff, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office.

Mothafar was accused of providing assistance to Al Dura’a al Sunni, or Sunni Shield, a pro-Islamic State internet-based media organization that published Al-Anja! newspaper, including by moderating private chat rooms.

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Iraqi immigrant pleads guilty in federal court in Oregon to supporting Islamic State