The portrait federal investigators have begun to paint of a Commack resident accused of twice trying to join terrorist groups in Syria is one of a troubled man with a history of low-level offenses who harbored visions of grandeur.
In documents submitted at U.S. District Court in Central Islip Monday, alleged terrorist sympathizer Elvis Redzepagic is accused of threatening to behead his mother, bragging about outsmarting the CIA in Facebook communications, and envisioning returning from abroad with an army of fellow fighters.
His past exploits, however, reveal a far less sinister life.
Redzepagic, who was denied bail, was recently nabbed for trying to skirt subway fees and for previously beating a victim and stealing their cell phone. According to the New York Daily News, Redzepagic had been arrested in New York City six times on a variety of offenses.
“This kid’s not normal,” Redzepagic’s uncle Ricky Redzepagic told the newspaper. “He never works. He does drugs.”
And then he was arrested again. Suffolk County police collared Redzepagic on Feb. 2 for a drug offense.
In subsequent interviews with police, he allegedly told officers he was going to “leave this country and [he was] going to come back with an Army—Islam is coming.” Last week, he attempted to slice off his tattoos with a knife and threatened to cut off his mother’s head, authorities said. After he was taken into federal custody Friday on charges of attempting to provide material support to a terror organization, he allegedly told officers: “I really feel like stabbing you right now.”
Redzepagic’s pursuit of a new life in Syria was detailed in court documents federal prosecutors in Central Islip used Monday to argue against his release prior to trial.
Investigators said the 26-year-old twice traveled abroad with the hopes of entering Syria by crossing the border in Turkey in 2015, and Jordan in 2016. He was unsuccessful on both occasions, authorities said. When he failed crossing into Syria from Turkey, he became frustrated and returned to the United States, prosecutors alleged.
After returning from the first time, he allegedly wrote on Facebook: “since I got back from turkey from trying to perform Jihad and join Jabhat Al Nursa the [CIA] has been bothering me. Its annoying but i out smarted them.” What caused Redzepagic to believe the CIA was aware of his travels is unclear.
The circumstances surrounding his return from Jordan were entirely different. While there, he was questioned by authorities and sent back to the United States, where he told border agents he’d traveled to Jordan with the hope of learning Arabic.
The two groups Redzepagic hoped to join were the so-called Islamic State, aka ISIS, or al Nusra Front, which recently broke with al Qaeda.
It’s unclear when Redzepagic went from committing low-level crimes to allegedly expressing support for terrorism. According to court papers, Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born radical cleric killed in a drone strike in 2011, served as a source of inspiration. Also slain in the same strike was Samir Khan, an al Qaeda propagandist who spent his teenage years in Westbury.
Court documents indicate that Redzepagic had taken several international trips over the last past decade, including to Montenegro—where he has familial ties—and Saudi Arabia, in addition to Turkey and Jordan.
Redzepagic’s family twice called 911 requesting he be removed from his parents’ home “due to his violent behavior,” according to court documents.
During interviews with the Joint Terrorism Task Force, Redzepagic said his ultimate goal was to “engage in Jihad…which Redzepagic stated could take many forms beyond simply active warfare or violence,” according to court filings. “Redzepagic further stated that, at the time he attempted to enter Syria from Turkey, he was prepared to strap a bomb on and sacrifice himself for Jihad.
“Redzepagic stated that fighting in Syria was different than committing a terrorist attack in the United States and that he didn’t want to harm ‘innocent’ people.”