Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry

St. Louis County group accused of terrorism aid may be innocent

The defense for a group accused of giving aid to an alleged ISIS fighter has made a motion to dismiss some of the most serious charges. The group of six St. Louis County residents and others was indicted in 2015 on counts of providing and conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists.

According to the indictment, everyone in the group knew that the money and supplies they collected were going to people "engaged in violent activities overseas, including conspiring to murder and maim persons." They allegedly also knew that an area man was fighting for ISIS before he died, yet they followed him to seek their own chances to fight for terrorists.

The defense motion paints a completely different picture. The group, some of whom had experienced violent upheavals in the past, were attempting to help the non-combatants, women and children who were suffering under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Then, in a region marked by fluid changes in leadership and association, they may inadvertently aided groups temporarily aligned with ISIS.

Further, the defense insists that the man prosecutors accuse of leading the group into fighting for ISIS was actually engaged in lawful combat with non-ISIS groups, including groups backed by the U.S. government. Therefore, the group qualifies for combatant immunity because they participated only in legitimate warfare against the Assad regime.

The defense motion seeks the dismissal of two counts of the indictment. Even if it is successful, two defendants would still face a charge of conspiring to kill and maim persons in a foreign country. Moreover, if the defense motion is successful, the prosecutor is prepared to charge all six with providing material support to a designated terrorist organization.

The evidence is interesting, to be sure. We recommend reading the entire St. Louis Post-Dispatch piece detailing the defense's evidence. Basically, they sent investigators to the region to interview people who had been in contact with the defendants in order to assess what they were really doing over there.

It seems that the group, dressed in U.S. military uniforms and armed with M-16 rifles, were among some 80 to 120 Bosnians who believed they were legitimately fighting for the Free Syrian Army, which was supported by the U.S. government. They were not there to aid ISIS in its quest to create a caliphate, but instead to try to stop the slaughter of Syrian civilians.

Conditions on the ground, however, were confusing and allegiances were fluid. The group may have encountered or even temporarily aligned themselves with the wrong people. Overall, however, they were "militarily ineffective" and spent most of their time working as cooks and in other minor roles.

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Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry

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