Most parents want their children to grow up to be successful members of society. For some, this means dreaming of a son becoming a doctor or a lawyer. For one family in Plano, Texas, their two sons turned their future upside down as they joined ISIS. This leap into the unknown would probably scare most parents, but not in the Ali family. Arman and Omar Ali wanted to become jihads, and their family supported their efforts. Their mother and father helped the cause enough to lie to the FBI and face criminal charges themselves, but managed to avoid prison time with a plea deal.
The Ali family was middle-class and seemed to enjoy the suburban life. Mohommad Hasnain and Sumaiya Ali sent both boys to college. They also had a younger sister at home. On the surface, many saw them as a quiet family living the American dream, but this was not the case.
Just as Mohammad and Sumaiya supported the boys through college, they also supported their desire to join ISIS. The fact that they went as far as trying to mislead the FBI about their terrorist ties could have meant the parents were going to prison.
With up to eight years in federal prison looming in their future, somehow the parents were able to cut a deal with the FBI to avoid serving any time. The agreement for each of the Ali parents was a $5,000 fine and probation.
Many assume Americans being recruited into ISIS come from harsh backgrounds and have something against the United States after years of abuse via the system. As more and more information surfaces about families like the Alis, it seems this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Ali family lived a good life in the United States, and this is precisely the type of family that ISIS targets for recruits. According to a report about this case:
“The case illustrates what studies of leaked ISIS files have shown: Many Islamic State recruits from the U.S. are well-educated and come from middle-class families. Plano neighbors described the Ali family as quiet but friendly. The father played tennis with one neighbor and engaged in friendly discussions with him about religion. The whole family came over for dinner one night.
Now, their parents are charged with lying to the FBI about their sons’ activities in the Middle East. Mohommad Hasnain Ali and Sumaiya Ali pleaded guilty in federal court in June to making a false statement regarding international terrorism.
It’s unclear whether the brothers are still alive. They were charged in a sealed federal complaint in March with providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations. No indictments have been publicly filed in the case.”
While the Ali family seemed to blend right into their Plano neighborhood, under the surface, both boys were preparing to become jihadis. The parents downplayed these desires from the start of their talks with the FBI. At first, it seemed that the parents might not have been aware of the extent of the connection between their sons and ISIS.
As the FBI dove into emails and communications between the family, it became apparent that everyone knew exactly what was happening. Both parents knew the pair was leaving to join ISIS in Syria. Arman and Omar enjoyed a close relationship with their parents, and this included sharing a lot of details about their future with ISIS.
Arman and Omar exchanged countless emails with their parents about their travel and involvement with the troops. The parents were hard pressed to argue they did not know what was going on as FBI shared emails containing travel schedule for Arman and updates from both the men.
When the series of emails were compared to the sworn statements made by both parents, it became apparent that they were both looking to defuse the FBI interest in their sons. The father declared to agents that their sons were in Cairo, Egypt. He also told agents that “…his sons were peaceful, liked to study, and never indicated they would be affiliated with any terrorist group.”
As Mr. Ali swore to the FBI that his sons had no tie to terrorist groups, Omar emailed the family to tell them “…Allah tells the Muslim to fight, kill and exile ‘those who wage war against Allah or His messenger.’” The stream of contact between the family outline a very calculated choice to join ISIS that was supported by the elder Ali family members.
Although it appeared that there was more than enough evidence to support the charges against the parents, the FBI allowed them to walk away with little more than a slap on the wrist. A small fine seemed to be nothing for a middle-class family. At this time there are far more questions than answers since it is not clear if the two sons are even alive at this point.