A Sussex County woman plead guilty to terrorism charges in federal court June 28.
Maria Sue Bell, a Hopatcong resident, put in her plea before U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez to one count of concealing attempts to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations.
Bell admitted that from February 2018 to November 2018 she knowingly concealed and disguised the nature, location, source, ownership and control of the attempted provision of material support and resources to fighters based in Syria who were members Jabhat Fath al-sham, also known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).
When Bell was arrested November 2020, she was charged in connection with concealing sending money to a Syrian foreign terrorist organization by federal authorities.
According to documents filed by DOJ officials at the time, starting in February 2017, Bell used encrypted applications to communicate with and provide advice to fighters based in Syria who were members of the al-Nusra Front, HTS, fighting the Assad regime.
Bell communicated with and provided money to one self-identified member of HTS based in Syria Bell sent currency via Western Union, using an intermediary to conceal the source of the funds, and provided advice on weapons and ammunition.
Bell cited her professional experience—including her specialized weapons training while on active duty in the U.S. Army and Army National Guard—to provide guidance concerning operational security issues, firearms purchases, and military knowledge. She had thousands of encrypted communications with HTS about operational planning and provided details with regard to concealing payments sent to HTS.
In communication released at the time of the arrest, Bell and User 1 a pledge to HTS and the ongoing Syrian conflict.
Bell stated: “If Assad wins, mujahideen will be persecuted again,” and “If Assad wins, I cannot get a visa into Syria. I cannot come to you.”
In the same communication, the defendant later asked User 1 if he was ready to fight:
Bell: Are you ready to fight in front line with other fighters? You are no longer a young child like you used to be.
Bell: It will be frightening. But I am with you
In another communication, after discussing U.S. support for the Syrian regime, which HTS and other groups were fighting at the time, User 1 stated: “If you want to hit the Syrian airports, we will return to revenge within New York.” Later in the encrypted communication, Bell states “If there were ever an attack in New York, all Muslims and helpers like me will be arrested….”
Bell provided advice to User 1 regarding the purchase of a firearm and ammunition. They discussed the cost and type of weapons that would be good in addition to various types of ammunition.
The government charged that Bell wired money, often at the direction of User 1, to individuals in Turkey and Syria who are supporters of HTS, knowing that the funds would support acts of terrorism by HTS. The defendant concealed the nature, location, and ownership of payments, sending at least 18 payments totaling $3,150 to several accounts used by User-1’s associates.
In one communication, she expressed concern that her transfers could be tracked by U.S. law enforcement:
Bell: But I will not have my account watched more closely than it is already.
Bell: Each time I withdraw money, it is noted because Western Union is trying to track fraud and terrorists for the government.
The charge of concealment of terrorist financing to a designated foreign terrorist organization carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000,. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 21, 2022.