Sal Shafi, the father of 22-year-old Adam Shafi who was detained by federal authorities last year for attempting to fly to Turkey out of SFO with the alleged intention of joining a terrorist group, admits that he was the person who first alerted the government to his son's growing radicalization. He tells the New York Times that he is not religious himself, and that he always trusted the government, which is why he sought their help after he realized that his son had begun following radical imams online, and was attempting to travel to Turkey a common gateway into Syria for those looking to join the Islamic State for the second time.
We first learned about Adam Shafi's arrest, which happened on July 3, 2015, in December, when the FBI revealed charges against Shafi that included attempting to provide material support to terrorists. Shafi had been questioned four days earlier, on June 30, at SFO when he made it all the way to a boarding gate to get on a flight to Istanbul. The FBI had already been surveiling Shafi's cell phone for a year at that point after his father had put him on their radar, and they say he intended to join the terrorist group al-Nusra Front an enemy of both ISIS and the Syrian government that is affiliated with Al Qaeda.
According to a grand jury indictment, Shafi talked about killing American soldiers, and said in one phone conversation, "I just hope Allah doesn’t take my soul until I have at least, like, a couple gallons of blood that I’ve spilled for him."
Shafi's father did not know about these conversations, and had told the government that he did not believe his son was violent.
It all started on a family trip to Cairo, as the elder Shafi, who is a Silicon Valley executive, tells the Times. Frantic to find Adam when he abandoned the family and disappeared for several days, secretly traveling to Turkey for unknown reasons, Sal Shafi reached out to the US Embassy in Cairo. There, he told officials that Adam had been “grieving about what is happening to Muslims” abroad, and said, “Maybe he's been recruited. Maybe he is in Syria? Iraq? Gaza?”
This was in the summer of 2014, and Adam, then 21, ultimately returned to his family and flew with them back to their home in Fremont. He said he had gone to Turkey to "witness the plight of refugees there."
The elder Shafi's attorney told him not to say anything else to the feds if they asked, but a few weeks later he received a visit from FBI agents and invited them in. Mr. Shafi admitted that he had fears about his son's depression, and allowed them to interview Adam at a coffeeshop. But by the time Adam got to SFO in June 2015, agents were already tracking his whereabouts. And while his father had hoped that the FBI would be sympathetic and perhaps be able to put Adam in some sort of radicalization deprogramming, such programs don't actually exist, and Adam now faces a possible 20 years in prison.
The family's attorney insists "There is no evidence that [Adam] was planning to do anything but fly to Istanbul, which is where he had been the year before for two days where he attempted to help the refugees and returned home. There is no statement by him that he was intending to go to Syria or join any designated terrorist group."
It appears the feds have been sympathetic to cases like Adam's in some cities the Times notes that the government "has quietly and slowly embraced the notion of interventions" and that agents will "work with parents, mental health experts, community leaders and sometimes religious figures to help minors or mentally ill people who agents believe have the intent, but not the capability, to hurt people." But in Adam's case, there doesn't appear to be any sympathy, which is perhaps why Sal Shafi decided to talk to the New York Times.
He now says, warning any other parents of children they suspect of being sympathetic to radicals, "Don’t even think about going to the government."