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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FBI: Engineer Sought Fighters for Chechnya

WASHINGTON -- As chief of facilities for Washington public schools, Kifah Jayyousi oversaw painting, toilet repairs and other mundane upgrades to aging buildings. But federal agents now say the engineer had a secret life, as a member of a nationwide network that raised money and recruited Islamic militants for conflicts in Chechnya, Bosnia and other places.

Jayyousi, 43, was ordered held without bond Wednesday on charges of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and to commit violent acts abroad, officials said. His lawyer, William Swor, said Jayyousi simply raised money for charitable activities and plans to plead innocent to the charges.

Jayyousi, who held the schools job from 1999 to 2001, was arrested Sunday at Detroit's airport when he arrived on an overseas flight, according to FBI officials. An FBI affidavit suggests that the Jordanian-born U.S. citizen had been under surveillance by federal agents since the mid-1990s, including at least part of the time he worked for the school system.

According to the FBI affidavit, Jayyousi was a vigorous supporter of Omar Abdul Rahman, the blind sheik convicted in 1995 of directing followers to bomb New York City landmarks. From about 1994 to 1996, Jayyousi published a newsletter, Islam Report, that provided updates on Rahman's legal case and promoted "jihad" overseas, the affidavit said.

Jayyousi also ran two charities, the American Islamic Group and American Worldwide Relief, which were described in the affidavit as vehicles to raise money and find fighters for non-U.S. Muslim causes. In 1995 and 1996, Jayyousi allegedly recruited at least two people to fight in Chechnya and arranged for equipment to be sent to Chechen rebels, including satellite phones and a Global Positioning System device, the affidavit said.

Jayyousi's lawyer said his client had done nothing illegal. "He's really being prosecuted for his constitutionally protected speech," Swor said. He noted that most of the allegations about Jayyousi involved activities that occurred a decade ago, when some of the organizations cited were operating legally and had not been formally linked to terrorism by the U.S. government.

Swor also noted that the U.S. government had protested the actions of federal troops in Chechnya, where rebels advocating independence have been battling for a decade. "Which groups are terrorist groups?" he asked.

The FBI affidavit said Jayyousi was part of a North American network that supported Islamic fighters in Chechnya, Kosovo, Bosnia and Somalia from 1994 to about 2002.

Jayyousi was fired from his school job in April 2001 after being accused of failing to properly manage his department.

The FBI affidavit said Jayyousi had been living in Egypt in recent years.