More witnesses testify against Ramic at ISIS trial

Published 2:51 pm Thursday, June 6, 2024

By Justin Story, Bowling Green Daily News

A series of witnesses testifying under pseudonyms or behind closed doors has attempted to tie Mirsad Ramic to involvement with designated foreign terror group ISIS through either online chats or personal interactions.

Ramic, 34, of Bowling Green, is on trial in U.S. District Court, where he has been charged with providing material support and resources to ISIS, conspiracy to provide material support to ISIS and receiving military-type training from a designated terrorist organization.

Federal prosecutors allege that he traveled from the U.S. in 2014 and ended up in Syria, training and fighting with ISIS until 2015.

On Wednesday afternoon, jurors heard from “Mohammad Dass,” the pseudonym for a man who claims to have spent time with Ramic in Syria on at least two occasions.

Dass is a naturalized U.S. citizen who crossed the border from Turkey into Syria in 2014 and testified about participating in an ISIS training camp.

He later left Syria and was prosecuted in federal court in New York for crimes relating to his participation in ISIS, receiving a sentence of time served after spending about two years in jail while his case was pending.

Dass recalled a harrowing experience crossing the border into Syria and being confronted by border guards.

“I was stuck in the barbed wire and got cut up pretty bad,” Dass said. “I got beat up pretty bad, kicked around and stuff.”

Dass described training focused on learning Islamic law, as well as assembling and taking apart an AK-47, running on a makeshift obstacle course and other training.

Dass said he kept a notebook of contacts that included one for a man he knew as Abu Hazim Al-Bosnawi, or “Kentucky.”

Al-Bosnawi is one of six aliases used in court documents to refer to Ramic.

Dass said his notebook included social media handles for Al-Bosnawi and that he interacted with him shortly after he arrived at the camp and later in an internet cafe.

Questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Judd, Dass said he left Syria after becoming disillusioned about his time with ISIS.

“My youthful stupidity led me to think I could just go help,” Dass said.

After leaving the country, Dass said he went to an American embassy and was arrested.

While he was prosecuted in New York, Dass agreed to cooperate with law enforcement there, and he was shown several photographs agents had obtained through intelligence gathering.

Dass said he identified a man in multiple pictures shown to him by FBI agents as Al-Bosnawi.

Cross-examined by Ramic’s attorney, federal public defender Scott Wendelsdorf, Dass agreed with Wendelsdorf’s characterization that he traveled to Syria to help people who were suffering during a civil war there under the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Dass conceded that he had gone to Syria to live in what he believed was a budding Islamic state, saying “I guess, more or less” to a question from Wendelsdorf about whether he felt he was being driven out of the U.S.

Dass acknowledged being turned off by the extremist ideology he experienced and escaped from the country at significant personal risk, and Wendelsdorf pointed to remarks Dass made at his New York sentencing about ISIS’ brutality and dubious religious pronouncement in which he said “it was senseless, these people are liars … that’s not my Islam.”

Dass said he was not entirely sure at least one of the pictures shown to him depicted Ramic, and acknowledged telling FBI agents at one point that the man he knew as Al-Bosnawi had tattoos on his arms and was from Kentucky or Kansas.

Wendelsdorf had Ramic stand and roll up his shirt sleeves, at which point Ramic removed his shirt and undershirt and showed a bare torso with no tattoos.

Dass acknowledged that he faced up to 25 years in prison for federal crimes prior to cooperating with the FBI.

Witnesses speak of chats

Two witnesses appeared Thursday to testify under pseudonyms in a closed courtroom about their interactions with the defendant.

A court order granted anonymity to a number of prosecution witnesses in order to protect their personal safety or ongoing undercover investigations.

Members of the public could hear live audio of their testimony in another room.

One witness testifying as “Jenna Torres” said she worked for the FBI as a confidential human source.

Torres said she lived in the Middle East for several years before returning home to the U.S. in 2007, after which she was approached by the FBI to gather information in counterterror operations.

Torres said the work required her to go onto online chatrooms for about two or three hours a day for three days a week and interact with others online, relaying information to an FBI agent.

“I was motivated because of my past,” Torres said. “My father was a veteran in the military and I felt it was my duty to serve my country and do the right thing.”

Torres visited a chatroom on the app Paltalk that hosted sermons and speeches by Shaikh Abdullah el-Faisal, a Muslim cleric who was convicted in 2003 in a British court for soliciting the murder of Americans, Jews, Christians and Hindus and was found guilty last year in the U.S. of recruiting people to commit terrorism on behalf of ISIS.

While online, Torres began interacting around 2012 with a man she knew as Malik Al Muthanna, another listed alias for Ramic.

Torres testified that Al Muthanna was one of a select few people in the chatroom who was authorized to raise funds from others for Shaikh Abdullah.

She also testified that people printed transcripts of Shaikh Abdullah’s online lectures that were sanitized so as to omit any references to jihad, or Islamic holy war.

Torres said she worked in this capacity for the FBI from 2007-2021, assisting in 160 investigations and receiving about $446,000 during that time.

Questioned by Wendelsdorf, Torres acknowledged that she did not at any point hear Ramic speak about wanting to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS.

Another witness, appearing as “Hasan Hazdic,” testified pseudonymously starting Thursday morning.

Hazdic said he is an FBI linguist and online covert employee who began engaging in chats on Paltalk with Malik al-Muthanna around 2011.

Hazdic said that al-Muthanna told him he attempted to travel to Yemen in 2010 but was turned away because he did not have a proper visa, and was then interrogated in Germany by FBI agents.

Questioned by Judd, Hazdic said he obtained an admission from al-Muthanna about being deceptive with “non-believers” about his reasons for traveling.

“He said that you have to be careful not to give your intentions,” Hazdic said, adding that al-Muthanna told him that one should tell anyone asking that they were traveling to study the Arabic language. “He did not use the word ‘jihad’ when we were chatting, but it was implied in our conversations.”

Judge admonishes Ramic

Ramic has occasionally earned some unwanted attention from U.S. District Court Chief Judge Greg Stivers.

When Wendelsdorf questioned Dass about his cooperation with the FBI, Ramic, sitting at a table with his legal team, said “they put innocent people in jail.”

This prompted Stivers to warn him against any further outbursts or he would be removed from the courtroom.

During a break Wednesday afternoon when the jury was out of the courtroom, Stivers told Ramic he was not to address anyone verbally during the trial.

After the jury left for the day Wednesday, Stivers brought up that a potential juror who was not selected to hear the case contacted the court to mention that she saw Ramic write something down on a piece of paper and show it to the jury pool.

Wendelsdorf said he was aware of it and “batted it down,” while Judd and other federal prosecutors said they had no knowledge of the incident.

Stivers again admonished Ramic for what he called a “stunt” and reminded him that his attorney was authorized to speak on his behalf in court.

Thursday morning before the jury was brought in, Wendelsdorf informed the court that Ramic wished not to participate for the rest of the trial and to watch the proceedings outside the courtroom.

After a discussion held out of the hearing of the public, Ramic remained in the courtroom.