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Former Army National Guardsman charged with supporting foreign terrorist organization

Former Army National Guardsman charged with supporting foreign terrorist organization

Federal authorities arrested a former U.S. Army service member and Army National Guardsman in New Jersey on Wednesday on charges of supporting a foreign terrorist organization, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Maria Bell, 53, was charged in connection to sending money to a member of the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a Syrian terrorist organization fighting the Assad regime, NJ.com reported.

HTS was added to the State Department's database in May 2018, establishing the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), the Center for Strategic and International Studies reported.

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Additionally, the criminal complaint alleged Bell provided advice on weapons and ammunition to the foreign terrorist group.

One complaint alleged Bell began communicating with a member of HTS in February 2017, sending thousands of encrypted communications to the person. The complaint did not identify the contact.

"Are you ready to fight in front line with other fighters?" Bell allegedly asked the contact. "You are no longer young child like you used to be. It will be frightening. But I am with you."

Authorities said Bell also allegedly wired at least 18 payments amounting to $3,150 to supporters of HTS in Syria and Turkey "knowing that the funds would support acts of terrorism by HTS."

The charge of concealment for terrorist financing to a designated foreign terrorist organization carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

U.S. Attorney Dean Sovolos described Bell as a danger to the community and a flight risk during her first federal court appearance Wednesday.

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He said when the FBI arrested her, they found 136 operable handguns and rifles, as well as 15 canisters of ammunition and a short-range rocket launcher inside her two-bedroom home.

Bell's attorney, Rahul Sharma, said many of the firearms recovered were antiques she received from her deceased husband, who worked at an armory.

Sharma argued that the allegations by prosecutors in the complaint occurred in 2017 and 2018, adding that no evidence has been presented of Bell's alleged activities in the past two years.

Still, Sovolos said Bell previously expressed a desire to leave the U.S., saying, "She has shown a committed, sustained, sophisticated and comprehensive way of supporting a terrorist organization."

U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor ordered Bell to be detained Wednesday. The judge said she was willing to review the ruling once additional information becomes available.

During the videoconferencing hearing, Bell did not address the allegations.

Bell was suspended from her job as an analyst with Atlantic Health Systems following the announcement of her charges.