World

Iraqi Man Helped Plot to Kill Bush, F.B.I. Says

WASHINGTON — A man accused of being a member of the Islamic State helped plot to murder former President George W. Bush in retaliation for waging war against Iraq, the F.B.I. said on Tuesday.

Law enforcement officials said they had arrested an Iraqi citizen living in Columbus, Ohio, Shihab Ahmed Shihab Shihab, 52, and charged him with aiding and abetting a plot to assassinate Mr. Bush, going so far as to conspire to smuggle undocumented immigrants into the United States to help carry out the killing.

Mr. Shihab was also accused of committing an immigration crime. The F.B.I.’s application for a warrant called Mr. Shihab a self-described “soldier waiting for directions from the leadership in Qatar.” And it alleges that he planned to provide material support to the Islamic State.

Mr. Shihab could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Justice Department’s case against him, as described in court documents, relied in part on the information gathered by two undercover informants, one of whom has worked with the F.B.I. for more than a decade.

The case could be a reset for the Justice Department, which recently lost a case that relied on informants to support allegations that four men plotted to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. Defense lawyers pointed to the F.B.I. and its informants to bolster their argument that their clients were encouraged to agree to a plan they would not have otherwise undertaken. The jury acquitted two of the men and could not reach a verdict on the others.

Mr. Shihab told an F.B.I. informant that he “did not care if he died as he would be proud” to be involved in the killing of Mr. Bush, the F.B.I. said in the warrant application, which was filed in federal court in the Southern District of Ohio. He believed Mr. Bush, who invaded Iraq in 2003, was responsible for the “breaking apart” of the country and the deaths of many of its citizens.

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The two informants met with Mr. Shihab and secretly recorded their conversations. They also communicated on their phones via the messaging app WhatsApp, and the F.B.I. obtained a warrant for Mr. Shihab’s phone records two months ago.

The informants not only worked with Mr. Shihab on plans to smuggle Iraqi citizens into the United States, but also provided him with cellphones and cellphone data cards that he used to communicate about those plans, the warrant application says.

One informant told Mr. Shihab that he could help him contact organizations that smuggled immigrants into the United States, and obtain false immigration and identification documents, according to the warrant application.

Mr. Shihab told a second undercover informant that he could help him bring undocumented immigrants into the United States, with the help of the first informant.

Late last year, Mr. Shihab told the first informant, who he thought was a smuggler, that four Iraqi citizens he intended to sneak into the United States were members of ISIS who would help him kill Mr. Bush, according to the warrant application. The men would need to be brought into the country via Brazil.

One of those men was the secretary of an ISIS financial minister, Mr. Shihab told the informant, and he planned to use a car dealership in Columbus to funnel money from the secretary into the United States, according to court papers, which gave a detailed accounting of Mr. Shihab’s interactions with the informant.

Mr. Shihab told the informant that he had connections to ISIS, including work with terrorist groups to kill many Americans in Iraq from 2003 to 2006, and that he transported vehicles and weapons from Syria into Iraq to supply terrorist groups.

He also said that he was related to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the man who helped turn the Islamic State into a global terrorist network and who died in 2019 after he detonated a suicide vest to evade capture by the U.S. government.

Mr. Shihab asked the informant what kind of security Mr. Bush had at his house in Texas, and whether four or six people would be enough to carry out the assassination, according to court documents. He also asked the informant if he could obtain fake police or F.B.I. identification badges that could be used as part of the plot.

He also said that he was looking for a former Iraqi general who aided the Americans in the Iraq war, and that he and his associates planned to kill him.

Early this year, Mr. Shihab revealed in a meeting secretly recorded by the informant that members of an ISIS unit, including two former Iraqi intelligence agents, were part of the “mission” to assassinate Mr. Bush, and that he would conduct surveillance on the former president’s house and obtain weapons and vehicles.

In January, fearing that law enforcement was monitoring his communications, Mr. Shihab asked the informant to destroy his cellphone. The informant took the device and turned it over to the F.B.I.

A month later, Mr. Shihab and the informant traveled to Mr. Bush’s home in Dallas and the George W. Bush Institute as part of a surveillance mission.

Mr. Shihab entered the United States in September 2020 on a visitor visa, with the help of a corrupt Iraqi American contractor at the U.S. Embassy, according to court documents.

Six months later, he filed a claim for asylum and U.S. citizenship, with the intent to bring his family to the United States from Iraq. But he considered marrying a U.S. citizen when he feared that his application could be rejected, and he paid for papers that falsely said he had divorced his wife in Iraq, according to the court filing.

Mr. Shihab worked at markets and restaurants in Columbus and Indianapolis, and he lived in both cities.

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