Man gets max for terrorism charge

Published 4:12 pm Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Suffolk man was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison for attempting to provide support to a terrorist organization.

Lionel Williams, 27, was arrested last December and charged with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, also known as ISIS.

“Lionel Williams planned to conduct a lone-wolf style terror attack,” said Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “He adhered to a radicalized version of Islam, publically declared his allegiance to ISIS on social media, and ordered an AK-47 assault rifle the day after the San Bernardino terrorist attack.

Email newsletter signup

“What started with radicalized internet postings escalated to attempts to help ISIS buy weapons and ammunition, and ended with a plan to kill law enforcement officers here in Virginia,” Boente added. “I want to thank the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office and the Suffolk Police Department for their extraordinary work on this case.”

According to a court affidavit, Williams, who also went by “Harun Ash-Shababi,” may have been getting close to carrying out a terrorist attack in the Hampton Roads area.

Williams lived with family members, including his grandmother and an uncle, on Mineral Spring Road.

Court documents states that Williams sent money last October and November to a person he believed was collecting money for ISIS, the militant Islamic group that has claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks around the world, including in the United States. The person was actually a persona adopted by an FBI agent.

In late March 2016, a member of the public advised the Federal Bureau of Investigations that a former associate, later identified as Williams, had been posting videos and status updates supporting the terrorist organization on his Facebook page. The person also said Williams had recently acquired an AK-47 assault rifle.

In one post on March 14, 2016, Williams wrote, “The Jihad (the struggle) doesn’t end just because it stops feeling good.” Williams also included in his post a video of a lecture by Anwar al-Awlaki, the now-deceased leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Two days later, Williams posted “It’s time for me to take a stand. I stand with #Dawlah. If that means you want nothing to do with me, then fine.”

Dawlah is an Arabic term that means “state,” according to the affidavit.

On March 20, Williams shared a video posted by someone else, which featured a speaker who condemned Muslims who sided with Western states and Muslims who did not provide support for jihad.

“I love this video,” Williams commented. “I love the Mujahedeen the world over.”

Mujahedeen is a term for Islamic fighters engaged in jihad.

On March 21, Williams liked a post by another Facebook user that expressed support for so-called “lone wolf attacks.” The post included the hashtag #KillThemWhereverYouFindThem.

Williams also posted a comment in response to this post that expressed support for targeting police officers, military and armed civilians, according to the affidavit.

Investigation revealed Williams ordered an AK-47 assault rifle from an online firearms dealer on Dec. 3, 2015 — the day after a terror attack in San Bernardino, Calif., where 14 people were killed and 22 seriously wounded.

FBI aerial surveillance on April 25, 2016, observed two individuals leaving Williams’ residence and walking to a nearby series of outbuildings on the property. Infrared video captured what appeared to be muzzle flashes, according to the affidavit.

In late April 2016, an FBI-controlled persona friended Williams on Facebook and struck up a conversation. Williams told the person, “I can’t wait for the day that the black flag of Islam exists all over Maryland, D.C., Virginia and Chicago.”

On June 13, Williams met with an FBI undercover employee. He stated he supports attacks on “hard targets,” such as police officers, military personnel and others who have the ability to defend themselves.

He said he would want to target someone who could fight back, according to the affidavit.

In additional conversations with the FBI persona, Williams said he wanted to be a doctor or surgeon for the cause. Williams also agreed to donate money and provided $200 on a prepaid cash card.

The FBI persona later asked Williams if he wanted to see what his money helped purchase and sent a picture of what appeared to be a rocket-propelled grenade.

Williams later sent $50 using an electronic transfer service, thinking he was helping to purchase 10,000 rounds of AK-47 ammunition and 50 magazines.

Williams also discussed with the FBI persona the possibility of conducting “martyrdom operations.” He stated his desire to marry and said he believed the marriage would ensure his “purity” so that any martyrdom operation he carried out would “lead to his true martyrdom, rather than simply his suicide,” according to the affidavit.

On Dec. 19, Williams wrote to the FBI persona that he was planning to empty his finances to “die without a single dollar in his pocket.”

Williams also responded that the plan was to do a “local” operation.

“It appears that Williams was moving closer to committing an attack that would result in his death,” the affidavit stated.

Williams was arrested on Dec. 21, 2016.

In addition to his prison sentence, Williams will be on supervised release for the rest of his life after his release.