New information has come to light on a Detroit-area Muslim convert who was building an arsenal of weapons and ammunition, all funded by a radical imam in Maryland.
The Detroit jihadist, 30-year-old Sebastian Gregerson, has been behind bars since last summer and is awaiting sentencing, but the imam who bankrolled his arsenal still walks free.
Gregerson, according to FBI filings in U.S. district court in Detroit last week, has now been linked to at least one other jihadist, 26-year-old Yusuf Wehelie, who was born in Minnesota to parents who migrated to the U.S. compliments of the United Nations-U.S. State Department refugee resettlement program.
Wehelie had traveled to the Middle East and boasted to undercover FBI agents that he had thought through plans to blow up a military recruitment center in Virginia if he could not join ISIS.
Gregerson was nearly as ambitious in his plans to become a “soldier” for Allah.
“(Gregerson) views himself as a soldier for ISIS,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Cathleen Corken wrote in the filing Monday. “Like any soldier, he is unlikely to relinquish this view of his identity by virtue of being in prison. In fact, he considers himself a prisoner of war. Once released, he is likely to resume his activities for ‘jihad in the cause of Allah.'”
Gregerson was amassing weapons purchased with money sent to him by Suleiman Anwar Bengharsa, a 60-year-old Libyan-born imam who leads mosques near Baltimore and in Annapolis, Maryland, where he also has had an active prison ministry converting criminals to Islam.
The link between Gregerson and Wehelie was disclosed in a 47-page federal court filing Monday that describes ties between Gregerson and like-minded jihadists, shedding light on how they accumulated weapons with money donated to mosques as part of “zakat,” which is the Arabic term for charitable alms.
A stock boy at Target
Imam Bengharsa wrote checks of up to $1,300 to Gregerson and wrote “zakat” in the memo line, according to FBI reports. Gregerson, who worked as a stock boy at a Target store earning $9.50 an hour, purchased two AK-47s, a shotgun, seven rifles, multiple pistols and knives, Japanese swords and thousands of rounds of ammo. Typically the purchases were made within days of receiving the checks, which the imam has denied were for the purpose of buying weapons.
But the imam’s past support for ISIS makes those denials of dubious value. He made a July 8, 2016, Facebook post indicating that he and his followers wished “to get closer to Allah” by standing against the United States and its allies.
FBI counter-terrorism investigators believed the Maryland imam and the Detroit man were plotting violent jihad, according to the sealed documents.
But Imam Bengharsa has not been charged with any crime to date. The extent of his weapons financing is not known, but he has been in the U.S. since he was 10 years old. And he has vast contacts across several states.
At least 85 percent of the imams in the United States are foreign born. Many of them, like Bengharsa, are graduates of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, the center of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence and a traditional stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The case of Sebastian Gregerson is one of several similar cases of young Muslim men stockpiling military-grade weapons to come to light in recent months.
Other recent cases of Muslims stockpiling weapons
WCCO-TV in Minneapolis reported in May there is “growing concern” that two brothers, 27-year-old Abdullah Alrifahe and 26-year-old Majid Alrifahe, were caught, quite by accident, with an arsenal in their car during a routine stop.
Police found a loaded AK-47, another rifle, a handgun, thousands of rounds of ammunition, a drone, a grenade and multiple electronic bomb-making devices.
One of the two brothers was released almost immediately, and the other remains in jail on a felony weapons charge, pending a $200,000 bond.
In that case, police never released information on where the brothers were getting the money for their weapons cache.
Could it be another imam like Bengharsa in Maryland?
Then there is the disturbing case of Mohammad Ramadan, a Ypsilanti, Michigan, man who was arraigned Saturday on weapons charges. He was allegedly stockpiling handguns and rifles in a storage unit in collaboration with an unidentified “friend.” The serial numbers on the guns had reportedly all been scratched off. The FBI has so far kept this case shrouded in secrecy, but Ramadan has a detention hearing set for Tuesday at 1 p.m.
Preparing for ‘zero hour’ event?
In the book “Stealth Invasion: Muslim Conquest through Immigration and Resettlement Jihad,” former Marine and FBI counter-terrorism expert John Guandolo describes a situation he says the U.S. government is not prepared for, something he calls a “zero hour event.” Yet, it is just such an event, which could include an economic collapse, an EMP attack by a foreign power, or even a massive natural disaster, that he says Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood are preparing for. They could launch attacks in cooperation with non-religious radicals while the country is reeling from an unrelated disaster, he said.
According to the court filing in Michigan last Monday, Gregerson received more money from the Maryland imam than previously thought. The original FBI file on Gregerson was accidentally left unsealed by the federal court for 24 hours in Detroit last September. That’s when the Detroit News published the original details on his involvement with the Maryland imam, but his connections to the Somali jihadist were not known publicly until last week’s filing.
Gregerson still has not been sentenced on the weapons violations, and could get as little as five years or less. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 30.
“Prosecutors reminded U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow that courts nationwide have given stiffer sentences to protect the public from unrepentant Islamic State supporters who are likely to wage jihad upon release from prison,” the Detroit News reported.
Gregerson’s release would pose ‘clear danger to public’
Gregerson struck a plea deal in March with prosecutors, admitting he acquired a fragmentation grenade last summer from an undercover FBI agent. That’s a 10-year felony because the grenade was an unregistered destructive device.
Gregerson should spend more than five years in federal prison, prosecutors said, though judges have broad discretion and can exceed the recommended sentence.
“(Gregerson’s) release anytime in the near future would present a clear danger to the public and the threat that he will follow through on his stated desire to engage in a violent act,” Corken wrote.
Wehelie, 26, was sentenced to 10 years in prison last month, more than tripling the government’s recommended sentence.
Wehelie was convicted of a gun crime, but prosecutors allege he talked about massacring military recruits in Springfield, Virginia.
The government does not detail the link between Gregerson and Wehelie but called the Somali-American man a “known associate.”
In December, prosecutors said Gregerson was backed by a group of like-minded supporters in Maryland, including the radical imam Bengharsa who has not been charged with any crime and remains free.
Bengharsa was identified in search warrant affidavits accidentally unsealed in federal court in September. The Detroit News obtained copies of the affidavits before they could be sealed by a judge.