Malaysia says it will deport a Kosovar man to the United States, where he is wanted on charges of computer hacking, stealing personal information of more than 1,300 U.S. servicemen and federal employees, then passing it on to the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.
The 20-year-old suspect arrived in Malaysia in August to pursue computer science and computer forensics studies at a private university, Malaysian Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said, as reported by the state-run Bernama news service. Local authorities arrested the man on Sept. 15, according to other media outlets.
"From our investigations, it was found that the suspect had communicated with one of the senior leaders of the IS militant group in Syria with the aim of hacking several computers, which contain information on the American security forces, before passing it on to the operations unit of the group for further action," Bernama quoted a statement from Khalid as saying Thursday.
First of its kind
U.S. law enforcement officials have identified the suspect as Ardit Ferizi, a 20-year-old citizen of Kosovo. A criminal complaint against him was unsealed on Thursday, and American justice officials are seeking Ferizi’s extradition to Virginia to stand trial on the charges. He is being held in Malaysia under an American arrest warrant.
Ferizi is charged with providing material support to IS, computer hacking, and identity theft, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“As alleged, Ardit Ferizi is a terrorist hacker who provided material support to ISIL by stealing the personally identifiable information of U.S. service members and federal employees and providing it to ISIL for use against those employees,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin said in a prepared statement, using another acronym for IS.
“This case is a first of its kind and, with these charges, we seek to hold Ferizi accountable for his theft of this information and his role in ISIL’s targeting of U.S. government employees,” Carlin added.
Ferizi is believed to be the leader of a Kosovar internet hacking group known as Kosova Hacker’s Security (KHS), who goes by the moniker “Th3Dir3ctorY,” according to U.S. officials.
Ferizi hacked into the computer system of a company in the United States and stole the information of thousands of individuals, the statement said.
Then, between June and August of this year, he passed on such stolen information to IS member Junaid Hussain (alias Abu Hussain al-Britani), the Justice Department said.
‘We are in your emails’
On Aug. 11, in the name of IS’s hacking division, Junaid posted a message on Twitter that contained a hyperlink to a 30-page document.
“We are in your emails and computer systems, watching and recording your every move, we have your names and addresses, we are in your emails and social media accounts, we are extracting confidential data and passing on your personal information to the soldiers of the khilafah, who soon with the permission of Allah will strike at your necks in your own lands!” the release quoted a passage from the document as saying.
The document also listed names, contact information and locations for 1,351 American military personnel and federal workers, the department said.
“Ferizi is charged with obtaining the personal identifying information of U.S. military and government personnel and providing it to ISIL,” said Dana J. Boente, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “We will investigate and prosecute these cyber-attacks to fullest extent of the law.”
If convicted, Ferizi faces as many as 35 years in prison.
The news of the arrest came a week after Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signed a deal in Washington D.C., by which both countries agreed to cooperate more closely in combatting foreign terrorist threats.
The U.S. is also going to assist Malaysia in establishing a digital messaging center aimed at countering online recruitment propaganda by IS targeting Southeast Asian audiences, Zahid told reporters.