BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Arafat Nagi, 44, pleaded not guilty in a federal courtroom Monday morning. He was arraigned on a two-count indictment handed up by a federal grand jury last week. Both counts stem from accusations that Nagi attempted to provide material support to the terrorist group known as ISIS.
Opening arguments in this case are now set for April 14 at 10 a.m.
In the meantime, Nagi’s defense attorney, Jeremy Schwartz, is asking for a mental competency examination to be done on his client to assess his ability to assist in his own defense if he stands trial. Schwartz said he could not get into the specifics of the situation that has led him to question his client’s competency to stand trial, but pointed to having “some concerns” after meeting with him.
The federal prosecutors assigned to this case, Joseph Tripi and Timothy Lynch, said they did not oppose a mental competency examination being performed by medical professionals with the Bureau of Prisons, but they said that was not because they had seen anything that would indicate to them that Nagi is not competent. They say they only are not opposing so as not to open any doors for appeals.
Judge Hugh Scott asked Schwartz to submit an order for that exam on behalf of his client, and indicated that he would likely sign it.
Nagi is accused of traveling to Turkey twice in the last few years to try to get to Syria to join ISIS fighters there. He is also accused of planning another trip to try again this summer. They also say he stocked up on tactical gear he bought on eBay before those trips. Investigators found knives, and even a sword, in Nagi’s Lackawanna home when they executed a search warrant there. Nagi is also accused of taking to social media to show his support for ISIS, its tactics and its leaders.
Schwartz has said nothing his client is accused of doing is inherently illegal, and he says he may explore the possibility of seeking a change of venue for the trial if jury selection becomes problematic.
“The word ‘terrorism’ is a very sensitive issue for a lot of people. We’re certainly going to look at that very closely when it comes time to select the jury and the jury pool. Again, in this area there’s been a lot of talk about terrorism, and I think racial and religious issues may come up as well that we’d be concerned about,” Schwartz said after Monday’s arraignment.
“Oh no, the trial will be held in the Western district of New York,” Lynch countered when asked about the potential for a change of venue.
Lynch said the discovery phase of this trial will be complicated by the fact that classified information may be involved, but he said that would not complicate the ability to have a fair jury trial.
Prosecutors have said they are still waiting to execute 14 search warrants on the electronic devices seized from Nagi’s Lackawanna home when FBI agents searched it July 29.
Nagi has been ordered held without bail pending a trial in his case.