Former Rio Claro resident Emraan Ali has been sentenced to 20 years in prison in the US for his involvement with the ISIS terrorist group from 2015-2019.
On Tuesday, Chief Magistrate Judge Edwin G Torres of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida sentenced Ali to the maximum term of 20 years' imprisonment, to be followed by 20 years of supervised release on his discharge from prison.
Ali, who has dual US and TT citizenship, pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to support a foreign terrorist organisation.
The case against him was based on multiple statements Ali had made to FBI agents in Syria that he had joined ISIS and worked for the group in a variety of roles.
Ali is the second Trinidadian to have been charged and found guilty of providing material support to ISIS.
The first was his son Jihad, also a dual US and TT citizen. Jihad, 22, pleaded guilty in May 2021 and was sentenced to 60 months' imprisonment.
When Emraan Ali and his family arrived in ISIS-controlled Syria in March 2015, the international terrorist group occupied a swathe of territory the size of Britain.
Over the next four years, Ali, 55, helped ISIS in any way he could, first by joining the “Anwar al-Awlaki battalion,” a military unit made up of English-speaking foreign jihadists. After suffering health problems, he became an ISIS money-man, funnelling cash to TT ISIS fighters in Syria.
In 2018, the US Department of the Treasury named and sanctioned Ali, together with fellow Trinidadian Eddie Aleong, for his involvement in terror financing.
Before travelling to Syria, Ali lived with his wife, Sulaimah Abdul Aziz, and their family in Rio Claro.
Sulaimah Abdul Aziz is the granddaughter of Nazim Mohammed, the imam of the Umar Ibn Khattab masjid in Boos village, Rio Claro.
In June 2019, Aziz appeared on a list of “ISIS survivors” submitted to the government by Concerned Muslims of T&T, a group calling for the repatriation of ISIS-affiliated Trinis currently detained in Syria.
On Monday, it was reported that the Prime Minister, who is head of the National Security Council, has committed to bringing back these 100 or more individuals, in a move that is likely to be controversial and complex.
Ali’s statements to the FBI in Syria provided a disturbing window into the twilight world of the ISIS caliphate. Among the many startling details he relayed to his American interrogators was that he had received an ID card with the words “Abu Jihad TNT” emblazoned on it and that he had arranged for his then 14-year-old daughter to marry a 21-year-old British ISIS fighter.
In March 2019, as ISIS lost its last sliver of territory, Ali surrendered to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces near Baghuz, Syria, together with Jihad Ali and one of his other sons, who remains unnamed as he is a minor.
Between 2013 and 2016, tens of thousands of people from over 80 countries travelled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, including around 240 from TT, according to one estimate. Only a handful has returned to this country, including one eight-year-old boy who remains stateless.