A U.S. Army veteran from Sussex County must spend more than three years in federal prison for deliberately concealing money and guidance she gave to a Syrian terrorist she'd fallen in love with.
Because there's no parole in the federal prison system, Maria Bell, 55, must serve out just about all of the plea-bargained 36-month sentence approved by a federal judge in Newark on Tuesday, Jan. 24,
Bell, of Hopatcong, offered not only money and military intelligence but the benefit of her experience in specialized weapons training to Syria-based factions fighting the Assad regime, a complaint on file in U.S. District Court says.
Bell, who was also a member of the U.S. National Guard, wired at least 18 payments totaling around $3,150 via Western Union to a self-identified member of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alias for the al-Nusra Front (ANF), the complaint says.
She used an intermediary "to conceal the source of the funds,” and also employed encrypted mobile apps to advise him on weapons and ammunition, it says.
Although the complaint doesn't name him, Stars and Stripes identified Bell's lover as Abdullah Flayes.
HTS reportedly is led by Mohammad al-Jolani, the founder of al-Nusra Front, which has which has been described as the "most aggressive and successful" jihadist organization looking to establish an Islamic state in Syria. The group includes many al-Qaeda militants while claiming to be independent of al-Qaeda, federal authorities say.
According to the complaint, Bell advised her lover to make sure the terrorist group's leaders kept American journalists from interviewing their fighters.
He at one point told her the group would attack New York City if the U.S. government tried to help the Syrian regime, it says.
Bell, in their discussions, referred tp 9/11 as “the big attack in New York," the complaint filed in Newark says. She called it "sad," then followed by saying that Americans "have little idea of consequences."
Bell urged her lover to fight "on the front line" while also reassuring him that "I am with you," the complaint says.
It also says she suspected that federal agents might be on to her, noting that "Western Union is trying to track fraud and terrorists for the government."
Bell -- also known as “Maria Sue Bell” -- served in the Army National Guard from November 1984 through June 1985 and was on active duty through January 1986, when she received what the complaint describes as an other-than-honorable discharge.
FBI agents arrested her at her home in late November 2020. According to the complaint, Bell was carrying travel tickets to Turkey through Egypt for that same day.
Agents search the two-bedroom home that was left to Bell by her late husband. They reported finding 136 operable handguns and rifles, 15 canisters of ammo and a short-range rocket launcher.
Bell took a deal from the government rather than face trial, pleading guilty to concealing attempts to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez sentenced her on Tuesday to a plea-bargained five years of supervised release.
Sellinger credited special agents of the FBI and officers of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, along with special agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Homeland Security Investigations, with the investigation leading to the plea and sentence, secured by Joyce M. Malliet, who is chief of his National Security Unit, and trial attorneys Brenda Sue Thornton and Kathleen Campbell of the Justice Department's Counterterrorism Section.
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