DETROIT — A cleric in Dearborn popular with supporters of the Islamic State owes a quarter-million dollars in restitution and other costs stemming from his fraud convictions, according to newly filed court records.
Ahmad Jebril, 43, who has gained an international following among Islamic State fighters and sympathizers, is on probation after serving 6 1/2 years in prison. After being released in 2012, he has used social media to become what experts say is the most popular religious leader for Islamists from the West fighting for the Islamic State.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama strongly condemned the Islamic State for decapitating American journalist James Foley and killing people as it advances in Iraq, calling to "extract this cancer so that it does not spread." The U.S. launched air strikes this month against the group and will continue them, Obama said.
Federal authorities in Detroit are trying to collect more than $250,000 in restitution from Jebril and more than $3,600 in special assessments for 42 counts of fraud. So far, Jebril has paid only $2,790, according to a motion filed Aug. 11 by the U.S. Attorney's office in Detroit. On Aug. 12, U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen approved the government's motion, which calls for "actions necessary to enforce the collection of the restitution."
In the motion, federal prosecutors wrote that a probation officer said she has "financial information about (Jebril) that would be helpful" to set up an "appropriate repayment schedule." Jebril's liability for restitution expires 20 years after his release from prison, which means he would have to pay more than $1,000 a month to pay his amount in full, which he is not meeting, said prosecutors.
Jebril and his attorney did not returns calls or an e-mail seeking comment. He was to appear for a deposition in the case on Aug. 13.
The government's move to collect money from Jebril comes after Rosen placed restrictions on the Dearborn cleric in June because of his probation violations. Jebril was traveling out of state to speak at Islamic centers, but now is not allowed to leave the eastern half of Michigan and must share information about his computer activity to his probation officers if asked. The restrictions came after a Free Press report in May that noted his extensive activities online.
The Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence released a report in April that said Jebril was the most popular inspirational figure for Western fighters flocking to the Middle East to join forces of the Islamic State. Jebril's "popularity is particularly strong among groups like" this, the report said. Among the militants the center surveyed, more than half of those who liked Jebril on his Facebook page and followed him on Twitter were with the Islamic State.
"A number of British (Islamic State) fighters have told us that they watched his (Jebril's) lecture series ... before embarking on jihad," the report said, which was written by three security experts for a center affiliated with five universities.
Jebril often interacts on Twitter with fighters associated with the Islamic State and other groups, the report said.
Jebril also is popular with Jabhat al-Nusra, another extremist group that operates in Syria. Jebril's Facebook page was the most popular among the fighters surveyed, according to the report.
Jebril and his father were convicted in 2005 of 42 counts of fraud of almost $400,000 that included mail fraud, bank fraud, failure to pay income tax and money laundering.
The two deliberately defaced rental properties in order to collect insurance money. They also were convicted of trying to bribe a juror in their trial by offering to pay for her wedding if she helped acquit them.
Meanwhile, supporters of Jebril are rallying online to the defense of the Dearborn cleric, saying the government is unfairly cracking down on him.
In recent weeks, followers have tweeted support for Jebril, claiming he is being silenced, but the government has not banned him from speaking out or posting online. Jebril's popular Twitter (26,000-plus followers) and Facebook (219,000-plus likes) accounts have not posted anything since July 9.