Arrest of Pa. man promoting ISIS renews push for social media screening

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., gives a thumbs up as he’s re-elected on Tuesday, November 6, 2012.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., gives a thumbs up as he’s re-elected on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. MCT

In light of an FBI investigation centered largely on a Pennsylvania man’s alleged Twitter posts aimed at recruiting people for the Islamic State, the state’s senior senator is renewing his and other Senate Democrats’ call for the Department of Homeland Security to include social media screenings as part of the United States’ visa-granting process.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., spoke to reporters Friday morning in Washington, just hours after he was briefed by the White House and the FBI on the arrest of 19-year-old Jalil Ibn Ameer Aziz.

Aziz, a U.S. citizen, is accused by the FBI and other national security agencies of attempting to recruit for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and to help others travel to Syria to “become ISIS fighters” and of spreading the terrorist group’s “propaganda” on social media sites, according to federal court documents.

Casey said he didn’t know whether Aziz had ever entered the U.S. on a visa. Officials said he and his parents lived together in Harrisburg.

Still, Casey took the opportunity Friday to talk about his push to have the FBI focus on the social media accounts of potential U.S. visitors.

“He seemed to be doing a lot of facilitating by way of social media,” Casey said, adding that federal officials think Aziz used more than 50 Twitter accounts to promote the Islamic State, sometimes switching accounts.

He seemed to be doing a lot of facilitating by way of social media.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.

The federal investigation, which included tweets from the past two years, indicated that Aziz wanted retaliation for the three Muslims murdered in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Feb. 10, court records say. He’s also accused of threatening to kill President Barack Obama.

Based on information shared with him during briefings Thursday and Friday, Casey said, officials think Aziz “self-recruited” and then sought to “radicalize” others. According to court records, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force alleges that Aziz promoted violence, wanted to make a “pilgrimage” to Islamic State-controlled territories and encouraged people to contribute money for “jihad.”

No specific plan of an imminent attack is mentioned in the criminal complaint. Aziz is charged on two counts of providing “material support” to the Islamic State.

Casey called the case one of a “homegrown extremist” and said he’d be pushing for Congress to fund Homeland Security, the FBI and other agencies at higher levels next year.

“Whatever the FBI needs, we got to get it to them,” he said.

This month, he and others, including Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., sent a letter urging Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson to release information about how national security officials use social media to screen visa applicants.

Additionally, Feinstein and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., introduced legislation last week that would require technology companies, including social media sites, to report possible terrorist activity.

Anna Douglas: 202-383-6012, @ADouglasNews

Related stories from McClatchy DC