ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — An ex-convict seeking to prove he was worthy of joining the Islamic State group planned to carry out a New Year’s Eve attack at a bar using a machete and knives provided by an FBI informant, federal authorities announced Thursday.
Emanuel Lutchman, of Rochester, was charged with attempting to provide material support to terrorists, prosecutors said. Officials said he was snared in an FBI sting involving three paid informants.
He was arrested Wednesday. His lawyer, Steven Slawinski, declined to comment on the charges.
Lutchman, 25, is a convert to Islam who said he received direction from an overseas IS member and planned to carry out an attack at a bar-restaurant in Rochester on Thursday, authorities wrote in court papers. The name of the business wasn’t released.
According to the FBI, Lutchman and an informant went to a Walmart store to buy knives, a machete, ski masks and plastic cable ties for the attack. Lutchman had no money, so the informant paid $40 for the items, according to a complaint filed in federal court.
Lutchman was described in court papers as having a criminal history stretching back a decade, including a 2006 robbery conviction that led to a five-year prison sentence and arrests for mental health issues.
State correction records show he initially went into state custody in November 2006, was released to community supervision in September 2010 and went back to prison three more times before being discharged in December 2013.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo told Time Warner Cable News that officials believe Lutchman became a Muslim while serving his sentence at Wyoming Correctional Facility in western New York.
On Thursday, a New Year’s Eve fireworks celebration in Rochester was cancelled so that police officers could be redeployed throughout the city, Mayor Lovely Warren said.
The plot underscores the threat IS poses “even in upstate New York but demonstrates our determination to immediately stop any who would cause harm in its name,” U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. said.
The FBI said Lutchman had been communicating with three of its confidential sources since November in conversations that were sometimes recorded. During those conversations, Lutchman expressed strong support of the Islamic State and a desire to join it in Syria, according to a criminal complaint.
In recent days, Lutchman told one of the informants that he had communicated with a “brother” in the Islamic State overseas, the FBI said. During online communications last week, the person overseas said Lutchman would have to prove to the group that he was one of them by praying regularly and by planning an “operation” on New Year’s Eve, Lutchman told the informant, according to the FBI.
According to court papers, the overseas person told Lutchman he was “behind enemy lines” and Lutchman was the closest person to their most hated enemy: the United States.
After Lutchman told the overseas person he hates it in the U.S. and was ready to “give everything up” to join the Islamic State, the person wrote online to Lutchman, “For now do wat u can over there,” the complaint said.
On Sunday, Lutchman sent a message to one of the FBI’s confidential sources, including an audio recording in which Lutchman swore allegiance to the Islamic State and its leader, the FBI said.
It was the second time in the past 17 months that a man in Rochester has been arrested on terror charges related to IS. In May 2014, Yemen-born pizza shop owner Mufid Elfgeeh was arrested after buying two handguns and silencers that investigators say he planned to use to kill returning U.S. soldiers. He pleaded guilty Dec. 17 to attempting to support a terrorist organization and is scheduled for sentencing in March.
In the New Year’s Eve plot, the FBI said Lutchman confirmed the bar-restaurant as the target after driving past it Monday with one of the informants.
“I will take a life, I don’t have a problem with that,” the court papers quoted Lutchman as saying.
The US Department of Justice released the following statement about the arrest
Emanuel L. Lutchman, 25, was arrested and charged by criminal complaint with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. of the Western District of New York and Special Agent in Charge Adam S. Cohen of the Federal Investigation Bureau’s (FBI) Buffalo Division.
“According to the complaint, as part of Emanuel Lutchman’s attempt to provide material support to ISIL, he planned to kill innocent civilians on New Year’s Eve in the name of the terrorist organization.” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “Thankfully, law enforcement was able to intervene and thwart Lutchman’s deadly plans.”
“This New Year’s Eve prosecution underscores the threat of ISIL even in upstate New York but demonstrates our determination to immediately stop any who would cause harm in its name,” said U.S. Attorney Hochul. “What began as an ISIL directive to harm the community ended with the arrest of this defendant and a message for any other individuals considering similar behavior – you will be caught, you will be prosecuted, and you will be punished. While law enforcement is well equipped for such investigations, the public is reminded to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity. I assure members of the public that the excellent work of our law enforcement partners with the cooperation of the public is the best way to ensure the safety of our community.”
“The FBI thwarted Emanuel Lutchman’s intent to kill civilians on New Year’s Eve,” said Special Agent in Charge Cohen. “The FBI remains concerned about people overseas who use the Internet to inspire people in the United States to commit acts of violence where they live.”
According to court records, the defendant, claiming to receive direction from an overseas ISIL member, planned to commit an armed attack against civilians at a restaurant/bar located in the Rochester, New York, area today, New Year’s Eve on behalf of ISIL and in furtherance of his plan to join ISIL overseas.
The defendant made an initial appearance this morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marian W. Payson of the U.S. Western District of New York.
The case is being investigated by the FBI’s Rochester Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett A. Harvey with the assistance of Trial Attorney Lawrence Schneider of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.
The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.