Two men were charged Friday with conspiring to help the Islamic State group by plotting with a Boston terror suspect to kill U.S. citizens to support the objectives of the terrorist organization.
Nicholas Rovinski, 24, of Warwick, Rhode Island, made a court appearance in Boston court Friday on a charge of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. David Wright, 25, of Everett, Massachusetts, was initially arrested last week.
Both men are accused of conniving with Usaama Rahim, 26, of Boston, who was killed last week by terror investigators who had him under 24-hour surveillance. Authorities say Rahim lunged at police with a military-style knife, but his family has questioned that account, noting that a knife is not seen in a grainy surveillance video cited by authorities.
Wright, Rahim’s nephew, told the FBI he met Rovinski about a year ago through Facebook, and they began communicating, according to an FBI affidavit filed in federal court.
The affidavit says the men initially planned to behead a political activist whom law enforcement officials have identified as blogger Pamela Geller.
Rovinski, wearing a blue T-shirt and gray sweatpants, did not enter a plea at Friday’s appearance. His lawyer declined to comment afterward. But earlier, Rovinski’s mother, Lori, told reporters, “It’s not true. That’s all I can say. It’ll all come out.”
Wright’s lawyer, Jessica Hedges, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on the new charge. Wright has been in custody since his arrest last week on a charge of conspiracy to destroy evidence.
Both Rovinski and Wright are scheduled to appear in court for a detention hearing June 19. Prosecutors said Friday that they’ll ask for Rovinski to be held without bail until his trial because he poses a threat to public safety.
Wright and Rovinski told authorities that during a meeting with Rahim on May 31 they discussed plans to behead Geller, according to the affidavit.
Two days later, Rahim called Wright and told him in a recorded conversation that he had “changed plans” and now wanted to attack “those boys in blue,” referring to police, either that day or the following day, the affidavit states.
Wright is accused of encouraging Rahim to “be steadfast in his intentions” and to destroy his phone and wipe his laptop computer to prevent law enforcement from searching them.
“In the course of this conversation, Rahim made several statements including his awareness that he might die during the attack,” the affidavit states.
About two hours after that conversation, Rahim was approached in a parking lot by Boston police officers and FBI agents. Authorities say he was shot and killed after he pulled out a knife and refused commands to drop the weapon, responding, “you drop yours,” the affidavit says.
The complaint says the men targeted Geller after she organized a conference in Texas in May featuring cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims generally believe any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad is blasphemous. Two men showed up with assault rifles and began firing, and a police officer shot them to death.
Days later, the Islamic State group publicly condemned Geller and called for her “slaughter.”
Using social media, Islamic State has called for attacks against residents of countries participating in the U.S.-led coalition against it.
The affidavit says that for the last six months, Rovinski has been posting comments on YouTube and Twitter supporting the Islamic State. It says that for at least two months, he has viewed videos about making weapons and uploaded them to his YouTube account.
CNN reported that one of its producers exchanged messages with Rovinski in March as part of research on Americans drawn to jihadists online. “I am not violent at heart but push the wrong button and its (sic) not pretty,” he wrote, according to CNN.
The FBI also said in the affidavit that Wright and Rovinski complained about the law prohibiting material support to foreign terror organizations — a crime they are now charged with.
“They made it so general now where they can manipulate and get you … on material support just for speaking … positively about (the Islamic State group),” Wright said, according to the affidavit.
During an interview with the FBI after Rahim was killed, Rovinski told agents he converted to Islam two years ago and was drawn to the teachings of the Islamic State group “because they represent the more pure and honest form of the religion.”