NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — An ex-con seeking to prove he was worthy of joining the Islamic State group planned to carry out a New Year’s Eve attack at an upstate New York bar using a machete and knives provided by an FBI informant, federal authorities announced Thursday.
Emanuel Lutchman, 25, of Rochester, was charged with attempting to provide material support to terrorists, prosecutors said. Officials said he was snared in an FBI sting involving three paid informants.
Lutchman was arrested Wednesday. Steven Slawinski, his federal defender, declined to comment on the charges.
Lutchman is a self-professed convert to Islam who claimed to receive direction from an overseas ISIS member and planned to carry out an attack at a bar-restaurant in Rochester on Thursday, authorities wrote in court papers. The name of the business wasn’t released.
According to the FBI, Lutchman and an informant went to a Walmart to buy knives, a machete, ski masks and plastic cable ties for the attack. Lutchman had no money, so the informant paid $40 for the items, according to the complaint filed in federal court in Rochester.
“He planned to kill innocent civilians on New Year’s Eve in the name of the terrorist organization,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin said in a statement. “Thankfully, law enforcement was able to intervene and thwart Lutchman’s deadly plans.”
WEB EXTRA: Read The Criminal Complaint
“This New Year’s Eve prosecution underscores the threat of ISIL even in upstate New York but demonstrates our determination to immediately stop any who would cause harm in its name,” U.S. Attorney William Hochul Jr. said. “What began as an ISIL directive to harm the community ended with the arrest of this defendant and a message for any other individuals considering similar behavior – you will be caught, you will be prosecuted, and you will be punished.”
“The FBI thwarted Emanuel Lutchman’s intent to kill civilians on New Year’s Eve,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Adam Cohen.
Lutchman was described in court papers as having a criminal history stretching back a decade, including a 2006 robbery conviction that led to a five-year prison stint and arrests for what was described as “mental hygiene” issues.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo told Time Warner Cable News that officials believe Lutchman became a Muslim while serving his sentence at Wyoming Correctional Facility in western New York.
His alleged pro-ISIS postings on social media may have put him on the FBI’s radar screen, CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported.
The FBI said Lutchman has been communicating with three of its confidential sources since November in conversations that were sometimes recorded. During those conversations, Lutchman expressed strong support of the Islamic State and a desire to join it in Syria, according to a criminal complaint.
In recent days, Lutchman told one of the informants that he had communicated with a “brother” in the Islamic State overseas, the FBI said. During online communications last week, the person overseas said Lutchman would have to prove to the group that he was one of them by praying regularly and by planning an “operation” on New Year’s Eve, Lutchman told the informant, according to the FBI.
According to court papers, the overseas individual told Lutchman he was “behind enemy lines” and that Lutchman was the closest person to their most hated enemy: the United States.
After Lutchman told the overseas individual he hates it in the U.S. and was ready to “give everything up” to join the Islamic State, the individual wrote online to Lutchman: “For now do wat u can over there,” the complaint said.
According to court papers, Lutchman discussed making a pressure cooker bomb, but decided on a machete attack saying, “We just gotta show our allegiance. I’m ready to lose my family.”
On Sunday, Lutchman sent a message to one of the FBI’s confidential sources, including an audio recording in which Lutchman swore allegiance to the Islamic State and its leader, the FBI said.
The FBI said Lutchman confirmed the bar-restaurant as the target after driving past it Monday night with one of the informants.
“I will take a life, I don’t have a problem with that,” the court papers quoted Lutchman as saying. “If we grab somebody, they can’t live. They may identify the vehicle. They can’t live.”
In a statement, Cuomo said the arrest is a reminder of the “new normal of global terrorism.”
“Today law enforcement did their job well — but the challenges we face have never been greater, and it is incumbent on every citizen to be diligent and responsible,” Cuomo said. “I want to reassure all New Yorkers and our state’s visitors that we are taking every precaution to keep people safe, and are in regular contact with our partners in both the federal government and local communities, statewide.”
Lutchman faces 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.
It was the second time in the past 17 months that a man in Rochester has been arrested on terror charges related to IS.
In May 2014, Yemen-born pizza shop owner Mufid Elfgeeh was arrested after buying two handguns and silencers that investigators say he planned to use to kill returning U.S. soldiers. He pleaded guilty Dec. 17 to attempting to support a terrorist organization and is scheduled for sentencing in March.
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