American charged with Islamic State ties contacted Jamaica cleric: U.S. official

WASHINGTON/KINGSTON (Reuters) - An American woman arrested last month for trying to travel to Syria to join the militant group Islamic State was in touch with an Islamist preacher in Jamaica, a federal law enforcement official said.

The woman, Keonna Thomas from Philadelphia, was charged in early April with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group after she bought a ticket to Europe to travel to Syria.

A court document detailing criminal charges against Thomas, who went by the nickname Young Lioness, said she sent electronic communications to a radical preacher in Jamaica several times earlier this year.

The official, who asked not to be named, said the preacher is Abdullah al-Faisal, a Jamaican convert to Islam who was deported from Britain in 2007 after spending four years in prison there for soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred.

Thomas, 30, asked Faisal about getting assistance from an Islamic State fighter overseas to help her travel. “I don’t want to say much here ... as of now I’m still here in the states but will be leaving soon,” she wrote to Faisal, according to the document.

She also wrote to him to say she had de-activated her Twitter account to avoid detection, it said.

Thomas faces up to 15 years in prison in the United States.

British authorities have said that another Jamaican convert to Islam, Jermaine Lindsay, listened to recordings of Faisal and attended one of his lectures before joining three other militants who attacked the London transport system on July 7, 2005. Fifty-two people were killed.

Richard Reid, a British militant who tried to detonate explosives packed in one of his shoes on a U.S.-bound airplane in 2001, attended a London mosque where Faisal preached.

Faisal is active online, posting around two sermons a week on his website and hosting events on video chat site Paltalk, many of them with radical political messages.

In recent sermons, he warned followers to avoid entrapment by law enforcement officers who pose as militants.

On April 4, he called reclusive Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “a legitimate caliph” in a sermon and described Shi’ite Muslims “5 star” infidels. “They are worse than the Jews and Christians in their hatred for (Sunni) Muslims,” he said.

Attempts to contact Faisal, who lives near Montego Bay in Jamaica, were unsuccessful. Jamaican police say they keep close watch on the preacher.

“Although he has not committed a crime in Jamaica, we still have to monitor someone like that who has such a colorful history,” said a senior Jamaican police officer who asked not to be named. “He was deported from Britain and also from Kenya and he is on record as inciting murder, so he is someone who the police would keep an eye on.”

Reporting by Mark Hosenball, Alistair Bell in Washington, D.C. and Horace Helps in Jamaica; Editing by Toni Reinhold