PLAINFIELD, Ind. (WISH) – New details were revealed Friday surrounding the investigation that led up to the arrest of a man with suspected ties to ISIS and al Queda in Central Indiana earlier this month.
FBI agents took 26-year-old Nihad Rosic into custody outside an unnamed business along Ronald Reagan Parkway in Plainfield on Feb. 6 following nearly two years of surveillance. Rosic is one of six Bosnian nationals who immigrated to the U.S. that are now accused in court documents of providing support to terrorist organizations in the Middle East.
Federal court records show each suspect is charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to kill or maim persons in a foreign country and providing material support to terrorists.
Prosecutors say the group used PayPal and Western Union to wire at least $19,348 to known terrorists in countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Syria.
Court documents also show the group is accused of purchasing surplus military equipment, including military uniforms, tactical combat boots, rifle scopes, range finders, firearms accessories, optical equipment and first aid supplies. The group attempted to send some of that equipment to Syria through the U.S. Postal Service, according to charging documents.
The documents also allege that Rosic tried to board a plane at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport last summer, and intended to fly to Syria to join the fight with ISIS there. It remained unclear Friday why he did not get on that plane, but a Justice Department spokesperson said more arrests connected to that trip could still be made.
Though the takedown happened on the day President Barack Obama visited Indianapolis, speaking at Ivy Tech Community College, the FBI says the President was never in danger. Special Agent Wendy Osborne declined to comment on the case, but confirmed that Indianapolis based agents made the arrest of Rosic. She said he was just “passing through” the area, and has no known ties to Indiana.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in St. Louis, where the case originated, echoed that belief Friday, saying she was unaware of any connections the group had in the Indianapolis area. Agents simply had a warrant and a solid lead Rosic’s location, so they moved in to make the arrest, she said.
Agents working inside Indiana’s Fusion Center monitor many different types of electronic communications, from cell phone tracking to satellite transmissions. But, court documents show it may have been something as simple as Facebook posts that gave the group away.
“That is not uncommon,” said private investigator Tim Wilcox, of Indianapolis based International Investigators, Inc. “Any time we do a due diligence investigation on someone, we do a social media deep dive. People post a lot of things that they regret later on.”
Wilcox says the federal government’s biggest challenge was likely deciphering those posts. Court records show the group used code words for people and places that had to be cracked, similar to the work local police and some of Wilcox’s associates do with known street gangs.
“We have to have a thesaurus to convert the gang street language to English, the same way the counterterrorist investigators are doing with the ISIL language. The FBI has some extremely skilled specialists that know all the language. They may have infiltrated other groups. So, they have all that inside information.”
But, piecing the case together likely hinged on something more simple, Wilcox said: access to the suspects’ cell phones.
“Smart phones now have more technology than mainframe computers had 15-20 years ago, and it’s so easy to put spyware on somebody’s cell phone without their knowledge. That’s why the federal government has to have a court order. And, to get a court order, they have to have sufficient probable cause to go to a federal judge and get the judge to sign off on the order. So, they must have had sufficient indication, and sufficient probable cause to get into this in the first place,” he said.
One popular way of downloading valuable intelligence data from a cell phone without a suspect’s knowledge is known as stegonography, he added.
“Stegonography is where you can imbed in a photo all kinds of information. It’s a form of spyware. You can send someone a picture that has stegonography imbedded, and if they click on the picture and open it, it installs the spyware on their phone. And, that could be the way the feds attacked this,” Wilcox said.
Though electronic surveillance measures helped make the case, Wilcox cautions the fight is far from over.
“The bad guys are getting more sophisticated and making it more difficult,” he said. “So, our counterterrorist effort has to be just as good and better.”
Supplementary court documents filed in the case in Missouri this month show it already involves thousands of documents, wire taps, search warrants and U.S. Mail interceptions. Preparing all of that for trial could take months or even years. If convicted, each of the suspects faces up to life in federal prison.