Huntsville terrorism suspect Aziz Sayyed expected to plead guilty to federal terrorism charge

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- A Huntsville man accused of planning a terrorist attack in Madison County last June, will plead guilty to a federal terrorism charge, court records show.

Aziz Sayyed, 23, will enter a guilty plea to a charge of attempting to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization – ISIS -- records show.

Last summer the Madison County District Attorney’s office accused Sayyed of planning to bomb a police station and claimed that swift action by law enforcement prevented the act from being carried out. In new documents filed by federal prosecutors, Sayyed is accused of watching ISIS propaganda videos, praising ISIS, learning bomb-making  and offering his services to the group.

A change of plea hearing is set for Thursday in Birmingham, where Sayyed is expected to enter a guilty plea.

His attorney Bruce Gardner said the plea deal with federal prosecutors includes a recommendation to the court for a 15-year prison sentence. The charge carries up to 20 years in prison. Gardner said the plea deal also includes a recommendation for lifetime monitoring of Sayyed.

"I don’t think there’s any question but that ... now,  that the FBI, federal authorities could have proven that he was radicalized," Gardner said.

The case had been handled in state court in Alabama since Sayyed’s arrest on June 15, 2017 and he’d been housed in the Madison County jail since that time.

Sayyed was awaiting indictment in state court, but court records show on Tuesday federal prosecutors submitted a charging document outlining their case against Sayyed.

Jay Town, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, helped prosecute the case while he was still in the Madison County District Attorney’s office, before being appointed U.S. Attorney.

The charging document, or information, says ISIS is a designated foreign terrorist organization and it uses videos and social media to recruit would-be members to engage in terrorist acts, including targets in the U.S.

Federal prosecutors allege Sayyed watched ISIS videos, including those depicting bombings, beheadings and other acts and shared them with other people.  Prosecutors claim he had an ISIS flag and told others the group was on the right path.

The charging document alleges Sayyed learned how to make a “TATP” explosive device, and obtained the materials needed to make such a device in Huntsville, including sulfuric acid, acetone and hydrogen peroxide.

At Sayyed’s preliminary hearing last July, in Madison County District Court, a police witness testified recordings from informants made up much of the case against Sayyed.

Gardner echoed that, saying that's how the case was started.

"He came to the attention of federal authorities though tips of some of the people who he was acting with," Gardner said. "Eventually one of those people became an informant, basically saying, ‘Hey this is getting a little too out of hand.’"

The federal charging document says Sayyed expressed a desire to attack a law enforcement target.

Prosecutors also claim on June 13, 2017, Sayyed met with a person “he understood to be an ISIS member.” They also allege that Sayyed and the person he thought was from ISIS discussed TATP and Sayyed’s “desire to serve ISIS.”

Sayyed was arrested June 15, 2017.

The document then alleges, Sayyed “offered himself as personnel to the person he understood to be a member of ISIS.”

Court records show that Sayyed had an arraignment scheduled for Thursday, but through his attorney, indicated his desire to enter a guilty plea.

Defense attorney Gardner said federal prosecutors spelled out the case against Sayyed to him and his client.

"There is, there was a lot more incriminating material that came to light once we had this meeting," Gardner said. "There were undercover videos, undercover taped conversations, that went well beyond what he had heard about in state court.

Gardner said he was surprised by what the evidence showed about his client's efforts toward building a TATP explosive device.

"He certainly had the capability and I’m now convinced the sophistication," Gardner said. "He also had the material. The three components to make the TATP bomb, they were found in his apartment. Purchased at different Walmarts on different days with cash."

Updated at 10:35 a.m. to correct Sayyed's age.