Arman, 27, and Omar Ali, 26, of Plano, Texas, are accused of traveling to Syria to fight alongside their Muslim brethren of the Islamic State terrorist organization, according to federal records. In addition, their parents are charged with lying to the FBI about their sons’ activities in the Middle East. Mohommad Hasnain Ali and Sumaiya Ali pleaded guilty in federal court in June to making a false statement regarding international terrorism. While they were scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday, the hearing has been postponed to a date to be determined.
For their offense, the Ali couple face a maximum penalty of eight years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000. However, the married couple worked out a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Texas. Mohommad Ali will get but 36 months probation, while Sumaiya Ali gets 18 months probation for her crimes, plus $10,000 in fines. U.S. District Judge Marcia A. Crone will decide whether or not to approve that agreement during the sentencing hearing. “The defendant has cooperated with the government and agreed to provide testimony, should it become necessary to do so in the future,” said Attorney Catherine McDonald, who represents Mohommad Ali, in court papers.
The charges were filed in May, while it is not clear where and when the Ali couple was arrested. Court records show that FBI agents questioned them in a room at DFW International Airport after getting a warrant to search their luggage.
It is not clear whether their sons are now alive. Arman and Omar Ali were charged in a sealed federal complaint with providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations. However, no indictments have been publicly filed in the case.
The validates the claim made by the Islamic State (known as ISIS or Daesh) that many recruits to the ranks of the terrorist organization come from well-educated, middle-class families. People in Plano described the Ali family as quiet and friendly. When Mohommad Ali, 57, was interviewed by the FBI in 2015, he told agents that his sons were in Egypt. Documents filed with the court noted: “He advised that his sons were peaceful, liked to study, and never indicated they would be affiliated with any terrorist group.”
However, emails the elder Ali received from his sons indicated that he had learned of their terrorist leanings. For instance, Arman emailed his father in 2014 a link to a video of an ISIS military parade in Libya. Arman wrote about other young Muslims who had traveled from the United States to join ISIS, according to federal court records.
Later that year, Arman emailed his mother to advise of his travel itinerary. She shared it with her husband. Arman and Omar traveled from Egypt to Syria via Turkey to fight for ISIS in late 2014, according to court records. In March 2015, Arman sent an email to his father, stating: “Things are heating up here, and I can’t guarantee me or Omar will be there in 2 months... I’ve been to the hospital every day with brothers from my group. Close friends have died, too many injured. Me and Omar are perfectly fine right now, but soon we may not be.”
Even so, Mohommad Ali continued to tell the FBI that “there was no way his sons were in Syria,” according to court records. The mother of the pair, Sumaiya Ali, 49, also denied that her sons were combatants and claimed that that there are “very reserved” and had not made friends in Egypt. “The defendant insisted that her sons would never be involved with ISIS or any other group,” according to court documents. “Prior to her sons’ departure from Egypt, the defendant communicated regularly with them regarding their whereabouts and desire to fight for ISIS,” plea documents said. For example, in February 2014, she told her son Omar, “Do what you need to do.” He answered, “Ok then going to Syria it is.”
In October 2014, Omar emailed her mother to say: “Allah tells the Muslim to fight, kill and exile ‘those who wage war against Allah or His messenger,’” according to court records. Six months later, Omar told her that he was transferring to an “English speaking battalion.”
The Ali brothers apparently became radicalized while attending university. Arman Ali attended the University of Texas in Austin from 2008 to 2011 but did not graduate. His LinkedIn page claimed that he later earned a bachelor’s degree in Arab and Islamic civilization from The American University in Cairo in 2014, a master’s degree in Islamic studies later. Disillusioned with life in America, Arman told acquaintances that he was leaving for Egypt to participate in the political unrest unleashed by the so-called Arab Spring in 2011.