A U.S. district magistrate in Missoula ordered a New York man — charged with lying to federal agents about planning to join ISIS and carry out terrorist acts — to remain in custody until his trial.
At a hearing Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah C. Lynch said Fabjan Alameti, an Albanian national with U.S. citizenship, posed too great a threat to the community to be allowed to return to his mother’s apartment in the Bronx.
“All I have to go on are the statements that you made. And they caution me not to release you,” Lynch said.
Assistant Federal Defender John Rhodes, representing Alameti, said the comments recorded by authorities, however graphic, were protected under the First Amendment. According to Rhodes, there is no indication that Almeti hurt anyone in the past, and he had no criminal record prior to the charges.
FBI agents arrested Alameti, 21, at a gun range in Bozeman April 3 after monitoring him since 2017. According to charging documents, he told a federal informant in January that he planned to join ISIS in Syria. He also said via an online messenger in February that he wanted to carry out an attack on U.S. soil.
“I will stand over them while I pierce their bodies with hollow points,” Alameti told the informant.
Lynch cited this statement in his decision.
Prosecutors also charged Alameti with possessing a firearm while using marijuana. At his arraignment May 6, he pleaded not guilty to both felony charges.
At the detention hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Starnes called an FBI special agent to testify. According to Agent Ingrid Nelson, the FBI launched an initial investigation of Alameti in late 2017, which was closed. Agents reopened the case in May 2018, after he started liking and sharing ISIS videos on Facebook, she said.
Nelson, who has spent the past five years working counter-terrorism for the FBI, said Alameti remained under constant surveillance after leaving March 14 on a bus to Bozeman. She could not say why he made the move to Bozeman.
While in Bozeman, Alameti checked into a motel where staff soon removed him for smoking marijuana in his room. After moving to a hostel, Nelson said, EMTs had to take him to a hospital for alcohol poisoning. Police confiscated his possessions, which included an airsoft rifle.
After leaving the hospital, Alameti agreed to an interview with the FBI March 25, according to charging documents. He denied ever wanting to fight for ISIS, harm U.S. citizens, fight the U.S. military or having any contacts overseas. Agents released him after he gave them permission to download the contents of his cell phone.
Agent Nelson said the FBI observed Alameti smoking marijuana “constantly” in the weeks leading to his arrest, and placed him in custody as soon as he held a rifle at the gun range.
In his request to have Alameti stay with his mother in New York, Rhodes said both charges carried little weight. Despite showing support for ISIS online and purchasing pellet guns, he never owned a real firearm during the FBI investigation, nor did he inflict any actual harm on anyone.
Lynch opposed the request, while also saying that it is not illegal to express support for any organization. He said Alameti’s statements may be protected by the First Amendment, but their nature and seriousness force him to keep Alameti in custody in the interest of public safety.
The court has set Alameti’s trial for June 24. Until then, he will remain in Missoula County jail.