NEWS 5 EXCLUSIVE: FBI Agent involved in Akron ISIS case talks about the evolution of terrorism

Posted at 8:06 PM, Aug 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-31 10:20:46-04

News 5 sat down exclusively with FBI Special Agent who was involved in the case of Terrence McNeil.

McNeil, 25, was sentenced to 20 years in prison earlier this month for spreading ISIS propaganda and trying to kill 100 U.S. service members.

Special Agent Jeff Fortunato said since 9-11, the number of investigations on terrorism have been constant.

As for McNeil's case, Fortunato said the focus was about preventing another major terror attack.

“He was a guy, who was a voracious consumer of Islamic or ISIS-related propaganda,” said Fortunato, "He made postings that suggested he couldn't wait for another 9-11, another Sandy Hook, another Boston bombing.”

McNeil used social media sites, like Twitter and Tumblr, to share his extremist views and a bone-chilling kill list.

RELATED: ISIS supporter from Akron sentenced to 20 years for soliciting murder of U.S. service members

“He had reposted or re-blogged a file that contained the addresses, names and photographs of about 100 give or take us service members,” said Fortunato.

He said the FBI stepped in, when free speech crossed the line and McNeil showed signs of acting on his words.

“We're very sensitive to that, we don't want to make something that isn't there, but at the same time we want to protect the public,” he said, “So we're always looking to strike that balance.”

RELATED: U.S. Attorney: Akron man who posted ISIS 'hit list' overstepped First Amendment rights

McNeil left this alarming message on social media:

“O Brothers in America, know that the jihad against the crusaders is not limited to the lands of the Khilafah, it is a world-wide jihad and their war is not just a war against the Islamic State, it is a war against Islam…Know that it is wajib [translated to “necessary”] for you to kill these kuffar! and now we have made it easy for you by giving you addresses, all you need to do is take the final step, so what are you waiting for?” the text of the animated gif stated. “Kill them in their own lands, behead them in their own homes, stab them to death as they walk their streets thinking that they are safe…”

Fortunato said McNeil grew up in New York, moved to Ohio, was living in the Akron area and worked at a local hospital.

He also revealed that McNeil lived with his mother.

“He was an American, he was just American like me,” said Fortunato.

However, McNeil, unlike Fortunato, was an American who grew to hate America.

“I know he converted to Islam,” said Fortunato. “It's clear from the body of investigations that he viewed the U.S. military as the enemy, he viewed the U.S. military has terrorists, very ironic given this case.”

When asked if McNeil’s friends and family had an inkling of what was going on, Fortunato gave a general answer about most of these cases.

“You’d be surprised at the amount of things people just blow off,” he said. “Or they just decide it's not important or someone's just talking a big game.

The agent said McNeil did talk about someone parking a car bomb in front of a church or school.

Fortunato said many family members are reluctant to turn in their loved ones who may have extremist views and dangerous ideologies. However, he encourages them to report them for the public's safety.

Fortunato also said terrorism is constantly evolving.

“Since 9-11, it has been just a consistent threat stream,” he said.

While the September 11th attacks were the most high-profile on U.S. soil, they were not the first.

The Global Terrorism Network counts 510 attacks in the U.S. since 1995. Islamic terrorists were found responsible for about 92 percent of them.

“Since 9-11, there have been over 10 federal prosecutions to acts of terrorism or terrorism support,” said Fortunato.

A few years ago, he said groups like ISIS began recruiting U.S. citizens using social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter.

“So Americans attempted to travel to fight for the Islamic state,” he said.

However, now the threat is coming from closer to home.

“That has changed a little bit as the Islamic State has been pushed back, by the United States in our allies overseas, so the threat now is more so folks acting from within,” said Fortunato.

Nationalist and Right-Wing terrorists are the second deadliest group in the U.S. in terms of ideology, accounting for about 6 percent of all terrorist attacks.

Regardless of ideology, Fortunato said the threat is real, here in the heartland.

While terrorism continues to evolve, the FBI’s core mission remains the same.

“Counter-terrorism is, and will remain for the foreseeable future, our number one priority,” he said.

As for the FBI's change in leadership, Special Agent Fortunato said not much has changed since the president's firing of FBI Director James Comey. In his department, he said it’s just business as usual.