Ramic convicted on all counts in ISIS terror trial in BG

Published 3:08 pm Wednesday, June 12, 2024

By Justin Story, Bowling Green Daily News

A Bowling Green man on trial for crimes related to his participation in the terror group ISIS was found guilty Tuesday of multiple criminal counts.

A jury convicted Mirsad Ramic, 34, of providing material support and resources to ISIS, conspiring to provide material support to ISIS and receiving military-type training from a designated terrorist organization.

The jury of six women and six men deliberated for nearly three hours Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court before returning its verdict.

Ramic shifted his balance back and forth in his swiveling chair at his defense table as U.S. District Court Chief Judge Greg Stivers read the verdict, but appeared to show no emotion as the verdict was announced.

“We know that he enlisted, trained and fought in the battlefield as a jihadist radical on behalf of one of the most horrific, brutal terrorist organizations this world has ever seen,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Judd said near the start of his closing argument Tuesday.

The statutory maximum penalty Ramic faces is 50 years in prison, and he will return to court Sept. 24 to be sentenced by Stivers.

During the six-day trial, federal prosecutors put on evidence to prove their allegations that Ramic, a Bosnian national and naturalized U.S. citizen, conspired with two men, Khalaf Fahad al-Khalaf and Abdullah Mohamed Alnwfal, who were Saudi nationals and former Western Kentucky University students, to leave the U.S. and travel to Syria in 2014 with the aim of joining ISIS, an offshoot of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and short for The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.

Ramic bought a plane ticket for a June 3, 2014, flight from Nashville to Sarajevo, Bosnia, that included a stopover in Istanbul, Turkey, where evidence shows he paid cash for a plane ticket to Gaziantep, Turkey, a border city from which he made his way to Syria eight days later.

His two co-conspirators carried out similar plans, flying from the U.S. to Istanbul, and instead of continuing on to the Saudi capital of Riyadh, buying a one-way ticket to Gaziantep and smuggling themselves into neighboring Syria.

Jurors heard evidence that Alnwfal was killed in action in 2015, while Ramic left Syria in September of that year, 15 months after his flight from the U.S.

Two former ISIS fighters who testified under pseudonyms spoke about observing Ramic at a military base that ISIS had wrested from Syrian forces.

One of the fighters, a Bosnian whose family brought him to Syria at age 15, testified during a deposition about firing weapons with Ramic at a range, taking part in guard duties with him as part of a Bosnian-speaking ISIS battalion and witnessing Ramic charge into battle during the siege of the Syrian city of Kobani in 2014.

Ramic was identified in a number of photographs by those witnesses, with one of the pictures showing him standing in military uniform holding a rifle, and another of him in military clothing holding up a black ISIS flag in front of a truck with a mounted anti-aircraft gun.

Jurors were also shown multiple posts from 2014 and 2015 attributed to Ramic on multiple X, formerly Twitter, accounts registered under aliases and introduced into evidence by FBI Special Agent Andrew Martin.

The posts appeared to show Ramic under the sway of ISIS’ radical Islamist ideology, with one of the posts referencing the 2015 execution of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya, for which ISIS took credit, and another from 2014 expressing the hope that then President Barack Obama’s daughters would be sold into slavery.

“It’s one thing to talk about the president and the Secret Service, but these are children, they didn’t choose this,” Judd said during his closing argument.

Jurors were also shown emails Ramic and his co-conspirators sent one another updating their location and status in Syria, with Ramic saying in one email to a co-conspirator in 2014 that he “shot the dushka at planes” and in another to the same co-conspirator that Ramic completed his will and wanted him to have all his belongings, though that email was punctuated with an “lol.”

Other emails discussed martyrdom and jihad, or Islamic holy war.

Ramic was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2021, but he had been under close watch by federal law enforcement since 2010, when he attempted to travel to Yemen but was turned away for not having his visa on him.

After being turned away from Yemen, Ramic was interviewed by an FBI agent in Germany and questioned twice more on his return to the U.S., and the FBI placed him under surveillance for the next four years before he made out for Syria, according to testimony from various FBI agents who appeared for the prosecution at trial.

There was testimony that Ramic claimed to have traveled to Yemen to study at an Islamic school, but a confidential FBI source who testified under a pseudonym informed jurors that Ramic told him during an online chat afterward that the explanation he gave investigators was a ruse.

Jurors were shown evidence that Ramic, under an alias, was a frequent presence in a chatroom on the PalTalk video chat app organized by radical Jamaican Muslim cleric Shaikh Abdullah el-Faisal, which prosecutors said was proof that Ramic was radicalized before traveling to Syria.

“ISIS authorized violence against anyone who disagreed with … their version of Islamic law,” Judd said in court Tuesday. “If you didn’t declare allegiance to ISIS, death was justified to the non-believer.”

Ramic’s attorney, federal public defender Scott Wendelsdorf, argued to jurors Tuesday that Ramic’s motivation for traveling to Syria was not to take up arms against the West, but to live in an environment where he felt he could practice Islam more freely.

Wendelsdorf presented Ramic as someone whose family was displaced from Bosnia by Serbian extremists and who found himself under close scrutiny for years in the U.S. following his attempted trip to Yemen.

“He became increasingly alienated by what he perceived to be anti-Muslim sentiment in the West, he wanted to go some place where he was not an outsider, where he could practice his religion like anyone else,” Wendelsdorf said.

Wendelsdorf reminded jurors that the FBI surveilled Ramic’s home, placed a pole camera outside his apartment, shadowed his trips to the library and placed an informant in a vehicle in which he was traveling to Nashville to worship on one occasion, but did not uncover any illegal activity for four years.

“It put him under fear of immediate arrest,” Wendelsdorf said.

Ramic came under the sway of ISIS propaganda that promised an Islamic paradise to any who came to ISIS-controlled territory Syria or Iraq, only to become disillusioned like others who claimed to have escaped Syria when they were turned off by the extremism and violence embraced by ISIS, Wendelsdorf argued.

Public filings indicated that Ramic left Syria in 2015 and ended up in Turkey, where he was prosecuted in the courts there for terror-related offenses before being deported to the U.S.

Wendelsdorf said that attempting to escape Syria was punishable by death under the sharia law enforced by ISIS, so Ramic’s actions there were not those of somebody willingly and voluntarily providing material support to the group.

During his argument, Wendelsdorf also urged jurors to treat with caution the testimony of paid informants and ex-ISIS soldiers who were prosecuted and took plea agreements that called on them to testify in future proceedings.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Tieke pushed back on Wendelsdorf’s argument, saying in a rebuttal that the evidence clearly shows Ramic’s radicalization and his intent to fight for ISIS.

“The response of the FBI (to Ramic’s abortive Yemen trip) was equal to the treat that Mr. Ramic posed,” Tieke said Tuesday in court. “The second the FBI turned its head, he was gone and he mobilized … he knew ISIS was engaging in terrorism and acts of terror and when he was there, he endorsed those and became a propagandist for them.”