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Suspected terrorist fostered his extremism online, FBI says

Held on conspiracy charge in plot with man shot by police

A 24-year-old Rhode Island man accused of plotting with two other men to behead anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller allegedly told FBI agents he was “at war” with those who do not support the Islamic State and said he would support the killing of his own family if they did not submit to the militants’ rule.

Nicholas Rovinski was held without bail in federal court in Boston on Friday afternoon on a charge of conspiring to provide support to the Islamic State, a little more than a week after 26-year-old Usaamah Rahim, one of his alleged coconspirators, was shot to death in a Roslindale parking lot after he allegedly pulled a fighting knife on approaching members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force.


“The government moves for detention, on the ground that the defendant poses a significant threat to public safety,” said Assistant US Attorney Stephanie Siegmann, as Rovinski stood with his shoulders hunched between his two attorneys. Thin and bearded, Rovinski wore dark sweatpants, a blue T-shirt, and slippers, his ankles shackled.

Rovinski’s other alleged coconspirator, Rahim’s nephew David Wright, 25, is already in federal custody after being arrested on an obstruction charge on June 2, the same day his uncle was killed.

Wright will also face the conspiracy charge, prosecutors said, and both he and Rovinski will appear together in federal court June 19.

In an affidavit filed in support of the charges against the two men, Wright was portrayed as the spiritual and intellectual leader of the alleged conspiracy. He allegedly told FBI agents after his arrest that he had radicalized Rahim, starting about a year ago when he introduced him to materials and documents related to the Islamic State, also known as ISIL and ISIS.

“Wright indicated that he had introduced Rahim to ISIL and persuaded him that ISIL’s statements were supported by religious scholars and the Koran,” FBI Special Agent Joseph Galietta wrote.


Wright is also the person who first made contact with Rovinski, who had converted to Islam just two years ago. Rovinski became an apparently fervent follower of the Islamic State, adopting its views of the Muslim faith. The two met through Facebook. Rovinski has posted pro-Islamic State videos and statements under his own name and under an Arabic name on the Internet, the affidavit said.

Rovinski also applauded the Amtrak crash May 12 outside Philadelphia in which eight people were killed. According to the affidavit, “Rovinski commented on the video of the incident, ‘Whoever crashed the train deserves a medal!’ ”

Wright and Rovinski communicated directly, often in what the affidavit called “cryptic conversations,” with each other over the past year, but by the end of May, the two were allegedly determined to stop talking and start acting.

“Like I said, I’ve been wanting to meet up with you to discuss some important aspects that I think you might, you might enjoy,’’ Rovinski said during a May 27 conversation recorded by investigators.

“Oh, that sounds so wonderful,’’ Wright replied, according to the affidavit.

Wright then allegedly texted Rahim about his conversation with Rovinski, whom he called “Brother Nuh.’’

“He may wanna come and meet up on Friday@ ... he wishes to speak on some juiciness.’’

“LOL,’’ Rahim replied.

Wright and Rovinski allegedly had a two-hour-long conversation May 29 in which Wright expressed support for the Islamic State and criticized federal laws banning material support for it, according to the affidavit.


All three alleged conspirators met on a deserted Rhode Island beach two days later and discussed plans to behead Geller, a nationally known anti-Islam activist whom Rovinski allegedly referred to in an online post as a “kafir,” or infidel, the affidavit said.

Geller held an event on May 3 in Garland, Texas, where participants presented cartoons depicting the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Two men attacked the conference but were killed by police. Two days later the Islamic State publicly condemned Geller and called for her “slaughter.”

In the affidavit, Geller is not mentioned by name but officials have said the person they call “Intended Murder Victim-1” is Geller, who is now under guard 24 hours a day because of concerns about her safety.

Rahim declared in the May 31 beach meeting that he was going to behead Geller, but within 48 hours, changed his mind, settling on a new target: “those boys in blue,” or police officers. That decision led to the June 2 confrontation on Washington Street near his home in Boston’s Roslindale section in which he was fatally shot by a Boston police officer and an FBI agent, who were among several law enforcement officials approaching him. He had allegedly threatened them with a combat knife.

Wright allegedly supported his uncle’s plan to kill Geller and his later plan to murder “boys in blue,’’ but he said he had no plans to become an Islamic martyr himself.


“Wright indicated that he agreed with Rahim’s plan and supported it but [Wright] had decided to take a different path,’’ the affidavit said. “Wright asserted to the agents that he intended to pursue the scholarly path while Rahim intended to join the fight.’’

In a related development, Rahim’s family issued a statement Friday morning calling the decision by officers to approach Rahim in the fatal confrontation an “attempt to illegally arrest Usaamah Rahim, without a warrant and in violation of the US Constitution.”

The statement called on US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley to investigate.

Officials have said that task force members approached Rahim on June 2 to talk with him, not to arrest him. In surveillance video, Rahim is shown walking calmly across the parking lot where task force members approach him. His family has maintained that the task force members were unlawfully aggressive.

“The family has consistently maintained that five armed law enforcement officials descending on Usaamah Rahim did not appear to be an attempt to encourage a voluntary conversation,” read the statement.

The statement was released before the new details of the alleged terror cell were released. The family has not responded to a Globe e-mail seeking a response to the new allegations.

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com. John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com.