Heights man suspected of ISIS threats held in jail

By ZEINAB NAJM
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS — Dearborn Heights resident Khalil Abu-Rayyan, who allegedly planned to shoot up a Detroit church, was back in court for his pre-trial hearing on possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of a controlled substance charges.

The prosecutor offered Abu-Rayyan a plea deal for his possession of a firearms charge on Feb. 26. The deal includes reducing the firearms charge to an attempted carrying of a concealed weapon, reducing the maximum prison time from five years to two-and-a-half years with community service.

“The deal will will be discussed with his federal attorney to ensure it doesn’t affect his state case,” Defense attorney Gary Jones said. “We have until Monday to decide if we are going to take the deal or go to trial.”

Abu-Rayyan’s sentencing for his marijuana charge was set by Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Craig Strong for March 18.

On Feb. 16, an hour long detention hearing in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Whalen, determined that Abu-Rayyan should be held on his possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of a controlled substance charge to ensure the safety of the community.

Abu-Rayyan, 21, has yet to have terrorism-related charges filed against him.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Waterstreet read unreleased messages from the investigation.

During the conversations and text messages, an undercover FBI agent posed as a 19-year-old Iraqi-Sunni Muslim woman who also supported ISIS.

“Shaytan (Arabic for “devil”) is talking to me,” the message from Abu-Rayyan said. “He has a deep voice … telling me, ‘Let’s have fun and hurt people,” … taking over my mind, whispering to me.”

“He says I’m doing his work … he wants me to shoot, stab, cut their tongues and tie them up,” the messages read. “Skin them like a sheep, even set them on fire.”

Abu-Rayyan also sent the undercover FBI agent messages stating he was alone and suicidal because of his parent’s divorce.

“Shooting and death makes me excited … love to see people scream,” more messages by Abu-Rayyan said. “I wish I had a gun … I would gladly behead people if needed … love to see people scream.”

He also said he saw videos of behaeading online and that they made him happy. Waterstreet said similar videos were tweeted and retweeted on Abu-Rayyan’s Twitter page.

“Do you want to do this of ISIS or just because?” a text message from the FBI read. “Just for me … to hear people scream, doesn’t matter who it is,” Abu-Rayyan replied.

Waterstreet read the messages in support of his asking for a competency exam because he believed Abu-Rayyan is not able to understand the charges against him and defend himself.

Whalen denied the request, but ordered a mental health and physical evaluation while Abu-Rayyan is being held.

Abu-Rayyan’s attorney, Todd Shanker, defended his client by saying the comments and threats made were an attempt to impress the undercover FBI agent posing as a woman.

“He was being seduced and radicalized from the text messages sent by the undercover agent,” Shanker said. “Anytime Khalil said ‘I don’t want to hurt anyone’ the agent replied, ‘You’re a fake,’ or with silence.”

Shanker asked the judge to focus more on the charges Abu-Rayyan currently faces, instead of the possible terrorism threats.

“Khalil and his family are willing to abide to any restrictions the court places,” Shanker said, “including house arrest, GPS or mental health treatment if released.”

Whalen ruled Abu-Rayyan is a possible threat to the community if released, saying he was worried about the comments made regarding hearing voices.

“It may be a bunch of baloney, but I go on facts,” Whalen said. “I think it would be a mistake. I feel bad for his family, but I’m entrusted with the decision to make this community safe.”

Abu-Rayyan first threatened attacks on police and a Detroit church, in support of ISIS, according to a federal criminal complaint unsealed Feb 4.

According to an FBI affidavit in the complaint, Abu-Rayyan had been under FBI surveillance since May, after photos and posts were found on his social media accounts declaring his support of ISIS.

In one photo, Abu-Rayyan was shown holding a semi-automatic pistol, while making a common ISIS gesture in two others.

The affidavit revealed he began having conversations with an undercover investigator where he stated he had an AK-47 and threatened to attack a Detroit church.

“I tried to shoot up a church one day,” Abu-Rayyan stated in the complaint. “I don’t know the name of it, but it’s close to my job. It’s one of the biggest ones in Detroit.

“Ya, I had it planned out. I bought a bunch of bullets. I practiced a lot with it. I practiced reloading and unloading. But my dad searched my car one day, and he found everything. He found the gun and the bullets and a mask I was going to wear.

“It’s easy, and a lot of people go there. Plus people are not allowed to carry guns in church. Plus it would make the news. Everybody would’ve heard. Honestly I regret not doing it. (If I) can’t go do jihad at the Middle East, I would do my jihad over here.”

The FBI said Abu-Rayyan on two occasions lied while filling out federal ATF Form 4473 to purchase firearms, when he checked “no” to the question asking whether he is an unlawful user of a controlled substance.

The first occurrence happened when Abu-Rayyan purchased a .22-caliber revolver from a sporting goods store in Dearborn Heights Oct. 5, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Michigan.

Abu-Rayyan was pulled over Oct. 7 in Detroit for speeding and was arrested when police found marijuana and the unlicensed weapon in the vehicle, the statement said.

The second occurrence came when Abu-Rayyan attempted to purchase a second firearm Nov. 15 at a different sporting goods store, but was unsuccessful due to the pending state weapons charges.

After his arrest, Abu-Rayyan admitted to law enforcement that he was a habitual marijuana user during the time in which he purchased the .22-caliber revolver.

(Zeinab Najm can be reached at zeinabnajm92@gmail.com.)