FBI declines to comment on possible terror plot in Michigan

The discovery of a weapons arsenal in a storage unit in Michigan prompted the FBI’s counterterrorism team to stop Yousef Mohammad Ramadan, 28, of Ypsilanti, from flying to the Middle East, according to The Detroit News.

Ramadan was arrested on Friday, but he has not been charged with a terror-related crime and an FBI spokesman declined to comment. So, it’s not clear why the FBI’s counterterrorism team and the head of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s national security unit are involved in the case, and there’s no confirmation whether investigators had thwarted a local terror attack or stopped a man from traveling overseas to commit terror.

Operating in secrecy, the U.S. Attorney’s Office quietly brought Ramadan into federal court on Saturday for a rare weekend arraignment that took place when the federal court was closed to the public. Not even posted on the court’s calendar, the arraignment was ended with a federal magistrate judge ordering Ramadan be held temporarily without bond.

Ramadan has been charged with knowingly possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, a five-year felony. He’s being held in the Wayne County Jail and is expected in federal court on Tuesday for his detention hearing.

The prosecutor overseeing the case is Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel, chief of the office’s national security unit. Tukel successfully prosecuted underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, according to federal court records. The lead investigator is FBI Special Agent Ryan Schanberger, a member of an elite counterterrorism squad who investigated terror suspect Sebastian Gregerson, who will be sentenced to prison this week.

“Given the background of the agents and the assistant U.S. attorney, it appears to be more than a run-of-the-mill illegal gun case,” said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. “The FBI devoted much more resources than they traditionally would for cases like this.”

Public records show that Ramadan has lived in Ypsilanti and near San Diego, Calif., in recent years and worked as a security guard. While living in Chula Vista, Calif., in 2010, he received a firearm permit, but it expired in 2014, according to the state Department of Consumer Affairs.

His most recent address is at the Willow Ridge Apartments in Ypsilanti, five miles east of Michigan Stadium. A neighbor, Tonia Atkins, 47, said on Sunday, “I’ve never seen anyone there.”

The counterterrorism case was revealed in a criminal complaint that was unsealed late Friday.

The case dates to Aug. 15, when Ramadan, his wife and children tried to fly to Amman, Jordan, aboard a Royal Jordanian Airlines flight, from an airport not identified in the complaint.

Before the family could depart, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and an FBI special agent interviewed Ramadan. He reportedly told investigators the family was relocating to Bethlehem territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority, according to the FBI.

During the interview, Ramadan said he owned two rifles and a Glock handgun and placed the firearms in a storage unit before arriving at the airport, court records show. He then proceeded to tell a series of lies to officials, claiming that the guns weren’t really in a storage unit.

According to court records, “Ramadan stated that he had lied about the storage unit, and actually had stored the firearms with a friend. Ramadan refused to identify the friend to whom he had allegedly given the firearms, stating he did not want to cause his friend to have problems with law enforcement.”

Records showed that Ramadan had legally registered the Glock handgun, but investigators would soon find more weapons after agents linked Ramadan to a unit at Devon Self Storage on South State Road in Ann Arbor. A judge approved a search warrant for the storage unit on Aug. 23.

Ramadan’s wife is listed as the primary contact for the unit and he is the emergency contact, according to the FBI, noting that this was an attempt to disguise Ramadan’s involvement with the storage unit.

The FBI special agent wrote in the complaint that he is “aware that individuals in actual or constructive control of contraband often attempt to conceal such possession.” Other methods of subterfuge were detailed in the complaint, including the fact that agents found components of an AR-15 rifle and two semi-automatic handguns in the storage unit, and the handguns had obliterated serial numbers, which is a federal crime.

The FBI has investigated and helped prosecute several terrorism-related cases in recent years, most notably Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight over Metro Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

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