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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 January 2021

American woman charged with aiding Syria-based militants

If convicted, Maria Bell faces up to 10 years in prison for providing material support to Al Nusra

Islamist rebels from Hayat Tahrir Al Sham outside the Syrian villages of Al Foua and Kefraya in July 2018. Reuters
Islamist rebels from Hayat Tahrir Al Sham outside the Syrian villages of Al Foua and Kefraya in July 2018. Reuters

Federal prosecutors in the United States have charged a New Jersey woman with concealing multiple efforts to transfer money to Islamist militants in Syria connected to the Nusra Front, a one-time Al Qaeda affiliate based in Syria’s Idlib province.

Maria Bell, 53, of Hopatcong, New Jersey, was accused of knowingly concealing her involvement in providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organisation. She appeared by video conference on Wednesday before Magistrate Judge Cathy Waldor in Newark, who declined to grant bail.

Federal prosecutor Dean Sovolos told the judge that when they searched Ms Bell’s residence, investigators found 136 pistols and rifles, 15 canisters of ammunition and an anti-tank rocket.

An affidavit signed by FBI agent Matthew Hohmann said that when offering the militant group assistance, Ms Bell cited her own professional experience, including specialised firearms training she underwent while serving on active duty in the US Army and the Army National Guard.

Public defender Rahul Sharma, representing Ms Bell, said the guns were “antique weapons” that belonged to Ms Bell’s late husband, and argued she should be released on bail because she was at risk for Covid-19 and posed little threat to the community.

If convicted, Ms Bell faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

The US Attorney’s office in Newark alleged in court filings that starting around February 2017, Ms Bell used mobile phone apps to advise and to facilitate money transfers to Al Nusra, also known as Hayat Tahrir Al Sham (HTS).

The FBI affidavit alleged that Ms Bell regularly used encrypted apps to communicate with a Nusra member with whom she had an online relationship. It said she exchanged “thousands of encrypted communications” with the Nusra member.

The FBI said she planned to meet him in Turkey and sent at least 18 payments totalling $3,150 to his associates through wire transfers.

Published: November 26, 2020 01:39 PM

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