Feds nab Mount student in city
Man allegedly supported Yemen insurgents
Facebook posts sparked the investigation into a Mount Aloysius College student arrested in Altoona this week on charges he lied about his ties to a militant group in Yemen.
Gafaar Mohammed Ebrahim Al-Wazer, 25, faces three counts in federal court of false statements in regard to forms he filled out and an interview during his application for nonimmigration visa in 2014 and then temporary protected status in 2015, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
“We were notified Thursday morning that a student living off-campus was detained in Altoona,” Samuel Wagner, spokesman for Mount Aloysius College, said in a statement Friday. “We do not have any additional information on the investigation at this time. We are in full cooperation with the investigation.”
Al-Wazer appeared before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Keith Pesto on Thursday in Johnstown, and his case will be transferred to U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, according to an article Thursday by the Tribune-Democrat. He was taken into custody by U.S. Marshals after his court appearance Thursday.
Al-Wazer’s LinkedIn page indicated he was studying accounting and had worked as an Uber driver. According to the college’s website, Al-Wazer was named to the dean’s list in 2017, 2018 and 2019, with several towns listed as his home, including Philadelphia and New Castle, Del.
Federal investigators allege Al-Wazer supported and is connected to the Houthi movement, a Yemen insurgency movement formally known as Ansar Allah or “Supporters of God,” and that his Facebook page was filled with photos and posts showing him in military garb and holding weapons such as AK-47s and even an rocket propelled grenade launcher.
Al-Wazer came to the attention of federal authorities in May 2016 when Drexel University, where Al-Wazer was studying English as a second language, alerted the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Philadelphia after Al-Wazer allegedly posted a picture on Facebook of himself in military clothing and holding an automatic rifle. The post also included text that stated: “He hates all Americans, death to all Americans, especially Jews,” according to the criminal complaint.
A Philadelphia detective and Homeland Security agent, both assigned to the task force, interviewed Al-Wazer at Drexel, and although Al-Wazer told the investigators he hated Saudi Arabia for its continuous bombing of Yemen and that the U.S. government funds the Saudis and provides weapons to continue the bombings, he denied ever firing a weapon, fighting in a conflict or participating in military or militia training.
During the interview, he also said he was anti-Saudi and believed the Saudis, the U.S., Israel and ISIS were in collusion, the government claims in the criminal complaint.
Investigators subsequently searched Al-Wazer’s Facebook account and outlined numerous examples of photographs and posts that allegedly show Al-Wazer posing with other men in what appears to be remote areas overseas while holding AK-47s and posing with groups of males between the ages of 10 and 40.
Al-Wazer is tagged and liked posts with pictures of what appeared to be armed militants, appears in numerous photos himself and in one February 2015 conversation on Facebook urged another person to join Ansar Allah. In September 2015, he told another person that when that person arrives in the U.S., he would get him access to Al-Wazer’s Ansar Allah group, according to the complaint.
In one post, he is posing with about 15 males that the text on the post noted had taken an oath “to stay on their path, and that these men will never be humiliated on the path of jihad,” investigators wrote in the complaint.
Investigators also contend Al-Wazer appears in another photo with the Houthi flag that depicts the movement’s motto, “God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Damn the Jews, Victory to Islam” while holding an RPG launcher.
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.