When Navy sailors shot and killed a terrorist in the middle of an attack on a military base in Texas last year, the investigation seemed like it would be short-lived. The shooter, Adam Alsahli, was dead and there were no apparent accomplices in the attack.
But text messages sent by Alsahli on the morning of the attack have led the FBI to another Texas student whom law enforcement accuses of harboring extremist views. Over the past few months, prosecutors in Texas have sketched out Alsahli’s links to a criminal case involving an FBI informant, firearms training, and an alleged plan to travel to Gaza to wage “jihad.”
In July, federal prosecutors charged Moctar Gouroudja Ahmadou, a Nigerian immigrant who came to the U.S. on a student visa in 2016, with illegal possession of a firearm after an FBI surveillance team followed him to a Houston-area gun range and allegedly observed him firing handguns and an AR-15 assault rifle.
In court documents and a subsequent detention hearing, law enforcement painted a more dire picture of Ahmadou than the single gun charge would suggest. Ahamdou, law enforcement officials argued, was a danger to the community who had “expressed a desire to travel overseas for both education purposes and potentially for violent jihad.”
The charges against Ahmadou have not been reported and, to date, prosecutors have been reluctant to say much about the case. The Justice Department issued no press release about Ahmadou’s arrest and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Houston did not respond to a request for comment.
Ahmadou’s attorneys also declined a request for comment but in court, public defender Philip Gallagher argued that his client had not “actually not discussed ever doing anything harmful to anyone within the United States” and that, despite at times 24-hour surveillance on Ahmadou by law enforcement, agents had little to show by way of a danger to the community from him.
Alsahli, a student who had expressed support for jihadist groups on social media, drove to the Naval base early one morning in May 2020 and shot at a guard before security personnel returned fire and killed him. No one was killed in the attack besides Alsahli and a ballistic vest saved the life of the sailor he shot in the chest.
Ahmadou’s name first surfaced when FBI agents went through Alsahli’s phone in the wake of the Corpus Christi base shooting and found he’d sent a message to Ahmadou and a group of roughly eight people through the encrypted WhatsApp messaging app on the day of the attack.
FBI agents combing through Aslahi’s text and social media accounts learned that the two men, both studying in Texas colleges, had been in communication prior to the attack. Prosecutors say Ahmadou would text Alsahli Quranic verses and at one point had asked him through an intermediary about “an elephant in the room concerning jihad.” Ahmadou, an FBI agent testified during a recent detention hearing, “wanted to know if he needed parents’ permission to commit jihad.”
After the FBI learned of Ahmadou’s links to the Corpus Christi shooter, agents approached him through an unnamed “paid confidential source,” who secretly recorded conversations with the Nigerian man and reported on his activities to the FBI.
The recordings, detailed by law enforcement in court, allegedly show Ahamdou citing a speech by Anwar al-Awlak, an al Qaeda preacher killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen after he attracted a following of English-speaking extremists, calling for would-be jihadists to train with firearms as his motivation to learn more about guns.
Agents also allegedly found Ahmadou downloaded sermons by ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, who issued a 2014 call for ISIS followers in the West to kill non-Muslims.
Throughout his conversations with the FBI’s informant, Ahmadou allegedly expressed a desire to “travel to Egypt, to Palestine, to Israel and Gaza,” particularly in May 2021 as fighting between Israeli forces and the terrorist group Hamas reached a peak in order “to study” and “travel to Gaza to possibly further commit violent jihad,” according to testimony from an FBI agent assigned to the case.
That month, Ahmadou allegedly traveled to a Houston-area gun range along with the FBI’s confidential source, where undercover FBI agents waiting at the range took photographs and observed him firing two hand guns and an AR-15 assault rifle, according to a criminal complaint.
Agents grew concerned, however, when Ahmadou allegedly expressed interest in receiving more intensive weapons training, including a sniper course and a training regimen that would teach him how to shoot targets while moving. Shortly afterwards, agents arrested Ahmadou and charged him with illegal possession of a firearm for his time at the firing range. Under federal law, non-immigrant visa holders are forbidden from possessing firearms.
Ahmadou has pleaded not guilty. A federal judge ruled him a potential flight risk and a possible danger to the community due to his foreign ties and alleged support of ISIS and ordered him detained pending a trial in January. Court records show the prosecutors requested a classification information security officer assigned to the case and that the prosecution will rely upon classified information to try the case.
When asked at a detention hearing in July whether Ahmadou had plans for any violence in the U.S., a FBI agent testified that the Bureau was “still investigating at this time.”