An FBI translator was arrested Saturday and charged with seven counts of making false statements and one count of obstruction after he misidentified his own voice on a recording and lied about it to investigators.
FBI translator Abdirizak Jaji Raghe Wehelie, 66 arrested after his own voice was intercepted in #terrorism investigation
— Chai (@Ben_Abra) May 7, 2019
The call came through as part of a recorded surveillance tracking the movements of a man believed to have traveled from Northern Virginia to Somalia to join the al Qaeda-linked al Shabab terrorist network.
A criminal indictment unsealed Monday alleges 66 year-old Abdirizak Jaji Raghe Wehelie, who worked with the FBI as “a linguist translating communications captured by court-authorized surveillance,” lied about a December 2012 voicemail he was asked to translate. The voicemail was from “Person A” who is believed to have aided and abetted “Person B,” who is thought to have joined al Shabab.
The kicker? The voicemail from Person A was left on Wehelie’s own mobile phone voicemail, a fact he hid by “misidentifying” his own voice in his report and and officially declaring it the voice of an “unknown male.”
According to the criminal indictment unsealed on Monday, “Person A was suspected of having conspired with and aided and abetted Person B, who traveled to Somalia to join al-Shabaab,” a terrorist organization with links to al Qaeda that has killed hundreds of people in terrorist attacks. The Justice Department said “Person B” was on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list. The individual is believed to be Liban Haji Mohamed, a former Virginia cab driver who left the U.S. to join al Shabab.
Even though he knew it was his own voicemail, the Justice Department alleges Wehelie entered the name into the FBI’s system as an “unknown male” instead. The indictment further reveals that Wehelie had a longtime relationship with Person A, which he attempted to conceal from the FBI.
Wehelie, who was in court Monday, is free on bond but faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison.
Wehelie initially told investigators he did not know Person A very well, but Justice Department documents show “‘179 unique telephone contacts’ between the two of them between July 2010 and September 2017.” Wehelie was also seen at Person A’s store and cafe several times. He finally revealed to investigators he has sustained a long-term friendship with Person A’s father.
Wehelie may have an uphill climb if he’s searching for leniency due to his longstanding family friendship with Person A. Wehelie’s own son was sentenced to 10 years in prison for felony weapons charges in 2017 related to statements he made to undercover agents about his desire to join the Islamic State abroad.
He and his sister were both placed on the no-fly list in 2010 after trips out of the country.