Federal prosecutors say a translator hired by the U.S. to work in Afghanistan lied about his contacts with recruiters for the terrorist group behind a notorious bombing that killed 13 American troops in August 2021.
In a federal criminal complaint filed in Kansas on Monday, the government says Mohammad Rafi Mohammadi communicated with, funded, and, in one case, sought to secure the release of recruiters for ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K) both before and after he worked for the U.S. as a linguist in Afghanistan.
Mohammadi allegedly denied “ever associat[ing] with anyone involved in activities to further terrorism” while filling out a security clearnace form for his linguist work in 2019. But FBI agents investigating him in the wake of the 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan say a trail of Facebook messages, social media posts, and the testimony of an informer contradict that account.
Experts say that, while lying on security clearance forms is illegal and subject to criminal penalties, prosecutions tend to be rare and reserved only for extreme cases. The case comes as thousands of interpreters, soldiers, and employees who fought ISIS-K and the Taliban beside the U.S.-led coalition are still struggling to find refuge inside the U.S. after Taliban rule.
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication. Rolling Stone was unable to reach Mohamaddi or an attorney representing him.
ISIS-K, formed in 2015, has clashed with both NATO troops during the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and Taliban forces. In its most infamous attack, ISIS-K operatives killed 170 civilians seeking to flee Afghanistan from Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International airport during the U.S. withdrawal in a suicide bombing and subseuqent firefight. The attackers killed 13 American service members in the process, making it the second most deadly day for American troops in Afghanistan since the war began.
It’s unclear when the FBI investigation of Mohammadi began, but agents sent a confidential human source to investigate the linguist in the fall of 2021, after the U.S. withdrew from the country and after “receiving information concerning [Mohammadi’s interactions with known members of ISIS-K],” according to a criminal complaint.
The Defense Department deployed Mohammadi to Afghanistan as a contract linguist in October 2019. Unbeknownst to the Pentagon, Mohammadi allegedly had a history of support for an ISIS-K recruiter prior to his travel to Afghanistan.
Investigators say he had been in contact with “Individual 1,” a man arrested by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) for “recruiting militants for ISIS-K and deploying them to a specific province within Afghanistan” in February 2019.
Prosecutors didn’t name the alleged recruiter, but the description of him as the subject of a publicly announced arrest by NDS aligns with Abu Obaidullah Mutawakil, a jihadist preacher arrested in Kabul in February 2019. Mutawakil’s arrest was the only publicly announced arrest of an ISIS-K recruiter that month.
Mohammadi’s relationship with the individual appears to date at least to early January 2018, when the Kansas man Facebook messaged a friend in an attempt to get the recruiter’s phone number. Months later, Mohammadi allegedly sent the recruiter $400 via Western Union and published a video featuring him on his Facebook page in the wake of the recruiter’s February 2019 arrest.
Once deployed to Afghanistan in October 2019, Mohammadi appears to have raised little suspicion except for a brief incident when “he attempted to sneak back onto the military base, as he left the base without permission,” according to investigators.
While in the country, Mohammadi allegedly tried to help a second ISIS-K recruiter, referred to in court documents as “Individual 2,” after an arrest. Afghanistan’s NDS arrested Individual 2 for “recruiting students to join ISIS-K and encouraging them to carry out terrorist attacks” in July 2019. Mohammadi allegedly told an FBI informant that he had tried to help secure the man’s release while working as a linguist in Afghanistan
In July 2019, NDS announced the arrest of Mubasher Muslimya, a Kabul University lecturer who allegedly recruited students to act as ISIS-K suicide bombers. Ahmad Farou and Ahmad Tariq, brothers and students at the university, were detained alongside Muslimiya. Their arrests were the only publicly announced detentions connected to ISIS-K recruiting that month.