A Sussex County hospital analyst and Libertarian political activist today admitted that she concealed her attempts to provide material support to Syrian foreign terrorist organizations in a guilty plea that could land her in prison for 10 years.
The case was announced by U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger, Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Security Division, FBI-Newark Special Agent in Charge Jesse Levine, and FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Timothy Langan.
Maria Bell, aka “Maria Sue Bell,” 54, of Hopatcong, New Jersey, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez to an information charging her with one count of concealing attempts to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations.
According to documents previously filed in this case, 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).
Bell, a former U.S. Army and National Guard soldier, was communicating with and providing monetary support to a terrorist group operating in Syria.
Bell served in the U.S. Army National Guard and on active duty in the Army for a total of 14 months from late 1984 to early 1986. She received an “other than honorable discharge” in lieu of a court martial, according to court papers.
Between 2017 and 2018 she allegedly used encrypted applications to communicate with one HTS member with whom she had an online relationship. She allegedly gave advice on the purchase of weapons and ammunition, planned to meet him in Turkey, and sent him money.
Bell — who was previously stopped by the FBI from traveling to Turkey — was planning to fly to Egypt and then on to Istanbul, according to an FBI affidavit filed when she was arrested on December 3, 2020.
Today in court, Bell admitted that she knew JFS and HTS were designated foreign terrorist organizations, that each engage in terrorist activities.
She admitted to assisting those terrorist groups and she pleaded guilty to being involved in the concealment of the attempted provision of funds or other material support or resources with the intent, knowledge, or reason to believe they were to be used to commit or assist in the commission of a violent act.
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, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 21, 2022.
Originally known as the Nusra Front, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in Syria was al-Qaeda’s most successful franchise with an estimated 10,000 fighters by 2016. Its name means Front for the Conquest of Sham, an area that covers more than Syria.
It was formally announced in 2012, but it had roots in earlier incarnations as both al-Qaeda in Iraq (2004–06) and the Islamic State of Iraq (2006–13).
It grew out of the Islamic State of Iraq’s decision, in mid-2011, to send seven fighters to Syria to provide logistical support for jihadists moving from Syria to Iraq. The Nusra Front was established in secret in October 2011.
It was announced publicly in January 2012, after the fighters had gained sufficient logistical support inside Syria. Led by Abu Muhammad al-Julani, it quickly became one of the most active rebel groups in Syria.
Nusra formally split from the Islamic State of Iraq in April 2013, largely over strategy. Julani reportedly refused to carry out operations ordered by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, then the ISI leader.
Baghdadi countered by trying to unite the two groups, under an umbrella that he renamed the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) but Julani opted instead to break away and reaffirm allegiance to al-Qaeda.
Nusra and ISIS then began competing militarily for the same turf across Syria and in Lebanon’s Qalamoun Mountains.