By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Virginia man who worked as an FBI interpreter in counterterrorism cases, and whose sons were also investigated by U.S. authorities, has been arrested and charged with federal crimes, the Justice Department said in a statement on Monday.
Abdirizak Jaji Raghe Wehelie, 66, was arrested on Saturday on charges of making false statements and obstructing a federal probe as he disembarked from a flight into Dulles International Airport in Virginia, a law enforcement official said.
Wehelie worked under contract as an FBI linguist and translator between June 2012 and May 2015, court documents said.
While doing so, according to an unsealed superseding indictment, the FBI was conducting electronic surveillance of two people, identified only as Persons A and B, who were implicated in a counterterrorism investigation.
The indictment said Person B travelled to Somalia to join the Islamic militant group al Shabaab, and was listed on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorist” list.
Nina Ginsberg, a lawyer for Wehelie, said his case was not related to national security or militants overseas.
Wehelie’s indictment alleged he made false statements to the FBI about phone contacts and in-person discussions he had with Person A, whom the FBI said had “conspired with” and “aided and abetted” Person B.
The Justice Department said Wehelie was scheduled to appear in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, later on Monday.
A law enforcement official said that one of Wehelie’s sons, Yusuf Abdirizak Wehelie, in July 2017 was jailed for 10 years after pleading guilty to felony firearms possession charges.
In a court filing, prosecutors said Yusuf Wehelie had told an undercover investigator that he was interested in joining the Islamic State movement and that, if he could not travel overseas to do that, he had considered launching an attack on a U.S. military recruiting station. After pleading guilty, Yusuf Wehelie was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In 2010, Yusuf’s brother Yahya Wehelie was allowed to return to the United States, after spending several months in Egypt, after his name was put on a U.S. “no-fly” list because he had travelled to Yemen, his lawyer said. His name was later removed from the list.
(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Jonathan Oatis)