A female U.S. Army veteran from Sussex County was sentenced to 34 months in prison for concealing her attempts to provide material support to Syrian foreign terrorist organizations.
Maria Bell, aka “Maria Sue Bell,” 55, of Hopatcong, New Jersey, previously 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. Judge Vazquez imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.
In his sentencing decision, Judge Vazquez rejected the government’s appeal for a maximum sentence of ten years.
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 of Jabhat Fath al-sham, also known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).
Bell, who was also a member of the U.S. National Guard, wired at least 18 payments totaling around $3,150 via Western Union to a self-identified member of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alias for the al-Nusra Front (ANF).
Bell admitted that she knew JFS and HTS were designated foreign terrorist organizations, that JFS and HTS has engaged or engages in terrorist activities.
She admitted the offense to which she pleaded guilty involved 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.
Although the complaint doesn’t name him, Stars and Stripes identified Abdullah Flayes, the Syrian terrorist that Bell had fallen in love with after they had met on Facebook.
Bell served in the U.S. Army National Guard and was 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.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Vazquez sentenced Bell to five years of supervised release.
Muslim community activist Hesham El-Meligy said local media misrepresented the case, depicting Maria as a white suburban woman who had fallen in love with a young militant in Syria, sending him resources to fight Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, when the truth was a lot more benign.
El-Meligy said Bell had been moved by a story of a young family in Aleppo that suffered because of the ongoing civil war and had tried to help.
“The judge did an incredible job of looking into the government’s claim that Maria had the intention to do harm particularly to hurt the government. The government did not find evidence to support that claim,” said El-Meligy.
The court accepted that the cache of weapons – 136 firearms, 15 canisters of ammunition, and a short-range rocket launcher – found in Bell’s basement belonged to her late husband, who had worked at an armory and collected antiques.
“We welcome the ruling today in Maria’s case. Though we strongly believe Maria’s arrest and charges were unjust. We are grateful that she will soon be reunited with her family and loved ones,” Sarwat Malik-Hassan, political advocacy director at the Coalition of Civil Freedoms, a survivor-led nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the abuses of the U.S. domestic War on Terror.
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