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Sheriff Paul Penzone and FBI special agent Mike DeLeon during a press conference on January 17, 2019.EXPAND
Sheriff Paul Penzone and FBI special agent Mike DeLeon during a press conference on January 17, 2019.
Steven Hsieh

Maricopa County Won't Say How Man Shot in Fountain Hills Tied to ISIS

Little is known about what prompted Maricopa County prosecutors to add two counts of terrorism to the case of a man originally charged with assaulting an officer in Fountain Hills.

Ismail Hamed called 911 on January 7 asking to speak with a Maricopa County Sheriff's Office deputy.  The 18-year-old expressed “affiliation with a terror ideology,” Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said in a press conference Thursday.

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When a deputy left the sheriff’s office to review the call, Hamed approached him and threw rocks at him, according to Penzone, and then drew a knife and charged the deputy “aggressively.”

The deputy shot Hamed, injuring him. He is being held at Maricopa County Jail on $500,000 bond, according to booking records.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office charged Hamed with one count of assault on an officer with a deadly weapon on the day of the attack. Ten days later, prosecutors added two counts of terrorism, claiming Hamed had ties to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

During Thursday’s press conference, Penzone and FBI special agent Mike DeLeon did not offer many specifics on Hamed’s ties to ISIS.

“Evidence indicates his intentions were to further the actions of his ideology in order to promote terror,” Penzone said.

Citing an ongoing investigation, neither Penzone nor DeLeon answered questions on whether Hamed communicated with ISIS, consumed ISIS propaganda, or pledged fealty to ISIS.

It's unclear when more details will be released to the public. County prosecutors filed a motion in Maricopa County Superior Court on Thursday to seal police reports, 911 calls, body cam footage, cellphone extraction reports, and other evidence related to the case.

Penzone said there is no indication “at the this time” that Hamed suffers mental illness.

Faisal Ullah, an attorney representing Hamed, did not respond to a request for comment.

Hamed, an American-born citizen, was not previously known to the FBI, DeLeon said. The ongoing investigation of Hamed is being conducted by a joint terrorism task force comprising local, state, and federal agencies, DeLeon added.

According to DeLeon, Hamed fits the description of a so-called “homegrown violent extremist,” or someone who is "inspired by global jihadist movement and who engages in a terrorist activity to advance an ideology.”

With the rise of ISIS came a rise in cases of individuals who are inspired by terrorist groups, but don’t have any direct connection to a foreign organization, according to Peter Mandeville, a fellow with the Brookings Institution’s project U.S. Relations with the Islamic World.

That may explain why Hamed was charged under Arizona’s state statute, rather than federal law. The federal terrorism statute only covers international terrorism in which an actor has a connection to a foreign terror group, according to Mandeville.

"I’m not surprised the initial charge was using a state-level statute given that it seems like they are fairly early in the investigation,” Mandeville said. ”It may well be that the FBI did not have enough information to meet the evidentiary standard they would need to meet the charge of international terrorism.”

Governor Doug Ducey in 2017 signed a sweeping expansion of Arizona’s terrorism law, adding a 10-year mandatory sentence for convictions. The bill also broadened the definition of terrorism under state law.

Authorities claimed that before the expansion someone could only be charged with terrorism for plotting an attack or attacking a government building.

The last known case of terrorism under Arizona law involved an 18-year-old Tucson man accused of plotting attacks on government buildings in Pima and Maricopa counties.

Mandeville said Hamed’s alleged act of terrorism does not seem like one that was well thought out, something potentially attributable to his young age.

"The younger they are, the stronger the element of, ‘let’s just make something up and improvise something,’” Mandeville said.

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