Atypical terror probe comes to a close
It was July 2015 when the FBI, scrambling to contain a surge in Islamic State group propaganda, first visited an Egyptian-American newspaper deliveryman in Maryland.
Agents needed to ask Mohamed Elshinawy why his phone number had surfaced in an investigation involving IS group extremists and how he came to receive a $1,000 Western Union transaction from Egypt.
During hours of questioning, Elshinawy first suggested the money was from his mother. Next he said it was for an iPhone purchase for a friend. After being reminded it was a crime to lie to federal agents, he proceeded to tell a different story – that he had indeed received money from the Islamic State group but that he was actually scamming the group instead of planning an attack.
It was a pivotal moment in a monthslong FBI investigation that ended Friday with Elshinawy being sentenced to 20 years in prison on terrorism-related charges.
The case had a chilling twist: Officials say that among the roughly 150 IS-linked cases U.S. authorities have brought since 2014, this is the only prosecution they’re aware of in which money was transmitted from IS group operatives abroad to someone in the U.S.
The more common model is money from America being sent to fighters in Syria.
The investigation stretched from a modest townhome northeast of Baltimore across multiple continents, unveiled a shadowy network of illicit payments and shell companies, and revealed a direct link to an IS group hacker who was killed in a drone strike in Syria just before Elshinawy’s arrest.
Under a plea agreement, Elshinawy admitted conspiring with the IS group, but he defended himself at his sentencing hearing, saying, “I am not a terrorist,” according to the Baltimore Sun.