A New York man has been found guilty by a federal jury in Brooklyn, following a three-week trial before U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis, of one count of conspiracy to supply material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and five counts of material support to the Islamic State.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Mirsad Kandic, 40, of Brooklyn, New York, and Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, was a high-ranking member of Islamic State, a designated foreign terrorist organization. He had multiple responsibilities within the global terrorist organization, including recruiting foreign fighters, smuggling foreign fighters from the West through Turkey and Syria, and obtaining weapons, military equipment, cards, money and fake IDs for IS fighters. In carrying out these responsibilities, the accused worked directly with IS emirs and battlefield commanders, including Bajro Ikanovic, who commanded an IS training camp in Syria from of 2014 or around 2014. Ikanovic, in turn, reported to Omar Shishani, then the military commander-in-chief. for the Islamic State and a key adviser to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was, at the time, the leader of the Islamic State and the self-proclaimed Caliph of the Islamic State.
According to the statements of 36 witnesses and evidence from six continents, Kandic tried to leave the United States to fight jihad as early as the summer of 2012. He was denied boarding at the departure point from the United States and was informed that he was on the no-fly list. In January 2013, Kandic attempted to fly from Toronto, Canada to Istanbul, Turkey on a direct flight. He was again denied boarding. The defendant then took a two-day Greyhound bus ride from New York to Monterrey, Mexico in November 2013, and traveled through Panama, Brazil, Portugal, Germany, Kosovo and Turkey before leaving. arriving in Syria in late 2013. Syria, Kandic joined ISIS and became a fighter for the group in Haritan, an ISIS stronghold on the outskirts of Aleppo, wielding Russian-made PK machine guns and AK-47 assault rifles.
ISIS leaders then directed Kandic to Turkey to assume the role of smuggling foreign fighters and weapons into Syria from abroad, and to serve as an emir for ISIS media. Kandic spread ISIS recruiting messages and gruesome propaganda using over 120 Twitter accounts. For example, Kandic sent an ISIS-produced “documentary” titled “Flames of War.” This video celebrated ISIS conquests and grisly executions of ISIS captives, including instances where victims were forced to dig their own graves before being summarily executed by shooting. The defendant tweeted that this video was the “best thing ever seen on screen”.
Kandic was also a dedicated and prolific recruiter of foreign fighters for the Islamic State. It has sent thousands of volunteer radicalized ISIS fighters from Western countries to ISIS-controlled territories in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. This included a fellow New Yorker who became an ISIS sniper and sniper trainer, and another individual who became an emir for ISIS safe houses in the province of ‘Idlib in Syria.
A foreign fighter recruited by the accused was Jake Bilardi from Australia. Bilardi contacted the accused in June 2014 for help in traveling to Syria to join ISIS. Kandic provided Bilardi – who had just turned 18 and had never traveled abroad before – with instructions and advice on how to reach Istanbul, Turkey. Kandic then arranged for Bilardi to be picked up at Istanbul airport and smuggled him into Syria. Kandic maintained contact with Bilardi as he became an ISIS fighter and an ISIS suicide bomber. Bilardi then carried out a suicide truck attack with other ISIS operatives on March 11, 2015 in Ramadi, Iraq, killing himself, more than 30 Iraqi soldiers and an Iraqi policeman. Prior to the attack, the accused wished Bilardi good luck and said, “May Allah [their] internal organs implode. After the attack, Kandic praised Bilardi, both on Twitter and to a co-conspirator. In audio recordings referring to similar suicide attacks, the defendant called the killing of more than 90 people “good”.
Additionally, Kandic provided battlefield intelligence and maps to battlefield commanders and ISIS fighters on the ground, including Ikanovic. Kandic also conspired with Ikanovic and other ISIS operatives in Syria to dig tunnels under the Turkish-Syrian border to move 800 to 1,000 fighters to ISIS at a time. Kandic also shaped the information environment in which ISIS operated by applying ISIS media and publicity discipline. For example, the accused ordered other ISIS supporters to refrain from publishing information about the success (or failure) of ISIS recruitment efforts as well as downplaying any reports about the military action of the Islamic State. Kandic also handled money for ISIS fighters in Syria, including two ISIS fighters who gave the defendant their bank cards, from which bank statements showed more than 40,000 dollars had been exchanged. Kandic smuggled weapons to ISIS in Syria, including a sniper scope for an ISIS sniper. Kandic operated a private market via Telegram – called “Khilafah (Caliphate) Market” – for which the defendant was the group administrator with the power to restrict access to the group. Members frequently offered firearms and military equipment for sale, including mortars, suicide belts, assault rifles and other firearms. Among the members of the accused’s private Telegram market was Abu Luqman, who at the time was the ISIS governor for Raqqa Province, ISIS’s de facto capital in Syria.
Kandic was arrested in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to provide material support to ISIS and five counts of providing material support to ISIS in the form of personnel, including himself. -himself, Bilardi and others, as well as services, weapons, goods and equipment, and false identity documents and documents. At sentencing, he faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment on the two death counts and 20 years on each of the other four counts. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering US sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Saritha Komatireddy, J. Matthew Haggans, and Josh Hafetz for the Eastern District of New York are pursuing the case, with valuable assistance from Attorney Jennifer Levy of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section and aides legal Matt Wulf and Huda Abouchaer.
The Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, FBI overseas legal attachés, and foreign authorities in several countries on three continents provided essential assistance in this case. The Ministry of Justice expresses its gratitude to the Bosnian State Protection and Investigation Agency, the Bosnian State Security and Intelligence Agency, the Bosnian Foreign Service, the Bosnia State Attorney’s Office, Australian Federal Police, Victoria Police (Australia), Australian Border Force, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Department of Attorney General , the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, the Joint Operations Command in Iraq and the offices of the FBI Legal Attaché in Sarajevo, Canberra, Nur-Sultan and Baghdad, for their assistance extraordinary in the investigation and prosecution.
The department also thanks the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Finland, the Stuttgart Police Department and the Federal Office of Justice of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development of the Republic of South Africa and the central authorities responsible for mutual legal assistance in Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Ukraine, as well as the offices of the FBI legal officers in these countries for their assistance in the investigation.