ST. LOUIS • Three St. Louis-area residents and three others from around the country supplied money and military equipment to terrorist fighters overseas, including the Islamic State group and al-Qaida in Iraq, the U.S. Attorney’s office said Friday.
Ramiz Zijad Hodzic, 40, his wife, Sedina Unkic Hodzic, 35, and Armin Harcevic, 37, all live in St. Louis County, prosecutors said. The others indicted were Nihad Rosic, 26 of Utica, N.Y.; Mediha Medy Salkicevic, 34 of Schiller Park, Ill.; and Jasminka Ramic, 42 of Rockford, Ill.
All face charges of conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists and with providing material support to terrorists. Ramiz Hodzic, who also went by the first name Siki, and Nihad Rosic were also charged with conspiring to kill and maim persons in a foreign country.
The indictment claims that the conspiracy began by at least May 2013.
The Hodzics, Salkicevic, Ramic and others solicited money in the United States for fighters in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. All six donated their own money, the indictment claims. The Hodzics used some of the money to buy supplies including U.S. military uniforms, combat boots, military surplus gear, tactical gear, range finders and rifle scopes. They, and unnamed others, then sent more than $10,000 in cash and supplies to third parties in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, the indictment says.
The Hodzics also sent money to Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina to support the families of fighters, the indictment says.
The indictment says all six knew that the money and supplies were going to those “engaged in violent activities overseas, including conspiring to murder and maim persons,” the indictment says.
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The conspirators used Facebook, email and phones to communicate, coordinate, rally support and update each other about the status of the fighters, using coded words such as “brothers,” “lions” and “Bosnian brothers,” the indictment says. They used Western Union and PayPal to send money.
The fighters “fought with and in support of” the Islamic State group, al-Qaida in Iraq and the al-Nusrah Front, the indictment says, and one of those fighters included a former St. Louis-area resident, Abdullah Ramo Pazara. Pazara left St. Louis in May 2013 and traveled via Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina before arriving in Syria that July.
Pazara boasted in March 2014 that he’d just returned from a mission where fighters killed 11 people and captured one, whom they intended to “slaughter” the next day, the indictment says. Pazara was killed while fighting in Syria, according to news reports.
Rosic tried to board a Norwegian Airlines flight in July, intending to travel to Syria to fight, the indictment says.
All six of those charged are natives of Bosnia who immigrated to the United States, prosecutors said. Three have become naturalized citizens and the rest either have refugee or legal resident status, they said.
Five have been arrested, and the Hodzics had a first appearance before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in St. Louis Friday night. Ramic is overseas.
The charge of supporting a group designated as a terrorist organization carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. Conspiring to kill and maim persons in a foreign country carries a penalty of up to life, prosecutors said.
Court records were not yet online Friday, so it was not clear if any of those charged had hired attorneys yet. None could be immediately reached for comment, nor could relatives.
U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan declined to comment on the case Friday, “because this case involved national security.”
William Woods, head of the St. Louis office of the FBI, released a statement that said, “The indictment unsealed today epitomizes the FBI’s commitment to disrupting and holding accountable those who seek to provide material support to terrorists and terrorist organizations. This case underscores the clear need for continued vigilance in rooting out those who seek to join or aid terrorist groups that threaten our national security.”
The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, Homeland Security Investigations, the U. S. Postal Inspection Service and police in St. Louis and St. Louis County were among the agencies that investigated the case, prosecutors said.
Speaking about the Islamic State earlier this week, FBI Director James Comey said, “We have open cases all over the place focused on this threat.” He said that the bureau had cases in every state but Alaska, and was focusing “keenly” on those traveling “to join this band of murderers” in Iraq and Syria, those returning from the fight and others who were not traveling but were inspired to acts of violence.
Comey issued a similar warning at a press conference in St. Louis in August.
The person listed as the owner of Hodzics’ condominium at the Chateau De Ville complex off Forder Road in South County could not be reached for comment. Larry Sorth is a property manager at the complex and lives there with his wife, Joyce Sorth.
Larry Sorth said that about 11:30 a.m. Friday, undercover FBI agents set up in the parking lot. A SWAT team and other FBI vehicles, including a white box truck, showed up later. The truck was parked at the complex into Friday evening as agents took evidence from the home and placed it into the truck.
“This is just a shock,” Larry Sorth said of the Hodzics’ arrest.
He and his wife said the Hodzics had lived there about 18 months, along with their three children. They described the pair as friendly.
“She was very sweet, to tell you the truth,” Joyce Sorth said of Sedina Hodzic.
Joyce Sorth said Sedina Hodzic had at first worn a head covering that revealed her entire face but recently had started wearing a veil that showed only her eyes.
Larry Sorth said that some neighbors said Ramiz Hodzic was a truck driver, but the man didn’t seem to have a job. “He was always at home,” Larry Sorth said.
He said that of the 41 units he oversees at the complex, 16 are home to Bosnian families. He said the Hodzics always made their required payments on time.
Vivian Franklin, 62, another neighbor said: “All of us we speak to each other, meet out here and talk in the parking lot. They really didn’t have anything to say to anybody, not that they were rude …”
She added: “You never know who is in your neighborhood, right?”
Valerie Schremp Hahn of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.