After one woman broke his heart, Khalil Abu Rayyan, a 21-year-old Michigan man, contemplated suicide. Then, when he confided his dark thoughts to another woman, she suggested he steer his violence toward other people.
Both women, it turned out, were FBI honeypots, and one of the recorded conversations with Rayyan entered into ongoing court proceedings provides a rare glimpse into how federal informants work.
The U.S. government now alleges that Rayyan, who has been indicted on federal gun charges, is an Islamic State sympathizer who talked of attacking a church in Detroit. Federal prosecutors have not filed terrorism-related charges, yet they are handling Rayyan’s indictment with the secrecy of a national security investigation.
The government has proposed a “limited protective order” that “would have kept sealed anything that even summarized material the government deemed sensitive,” according to a filing by the defense, which has so far refused to accept the proposal.
Based on those records now available, it appears the first FBI informant to enter Rayyan’s life was “Ghaada.” They struck up an intense relationship online, and even talked about marriage, children, and a life together.
When Ghaada called off the relationship, Rayyan was heartbroken. The FBI then introduced “Jannah Bride,” a 19-year-old Sunni Muslim who had a soft and charming accent when she spoke (in Arabic, Jannah means heaven).
“I love your voice, by the way,” Rayyan told her in one conversation.
To impress his new romantic interest, who appeared preoccupied with jihad, Rayyan claimed to have an AK-47 (he didn’t), and to have attempted travel to Syria (there’s no evidence he even bought a ticket).
Like Ghaada, Jannah Bride was an FBI informant.
An FBI recording of a conversation between Rayyan and Bride — which was obtained exclusively by The Intercept — shows how the FBI used Rayyan’s suicidal thoughts to manipulate him.
In a 15-minute call with Bride on February 2, Rayyan admitted that he was depressed and considering suicide.
“I’m tired of this,” Rayyan told her. “We’re doing the same thing every day.”
“You’re just saying that, right?” Bride asked. “Like, you didn’t plan anything?”
“I bought a rope this morning …” Rayyan answered. “It’s not that hard.”
“What do you mean it’s not that hard?” Bride followed. “It’s hard to take your own life, Khalil.”
Whether Khalil was suicidal or simply exhibiting attention-seeking behavior is unclear. But within a few minutes, the FBI informant deftly steered the conversation to violence against other people.
“Which thought is greater to you right now — hurting yourself or somebody else?” Bride asked.
“What is it?” he replied.
“Are you thinking about hurting yourself or somebody else?” Bride said.
“Well, I mean, I would not like to hurt somebody else,” Rayyan said. “But at the same time, if I did it to myself, it’d be easier. I wouldn’t get in trouble.”
A couple of months after the phone call, FBI agents searched Rayyan’s home and business, looking for the AK-47 he mentioned to Bride in one conversation. Federal agents found no trace of the assault rifle. Rayyan appears to have made up the story entirely to impress Bride.
Federal prosecutors instead charged Rayyan with unlawful possession of a handgun, which, according to his lawyer, he had obtained for self-defense while delivering pizzas in Detroit.
The government is refusing to turn over all communications between Rayyan and government informants. The FBI did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment.
In a motion filed April 15, Rayyan’s lawyers, Todd Shanker and Benton C. Martin, wrote: “The government clearly exploited Rayyan, and blatantly attempted to steer him toward terrorism as an acceptable form of suicide before God.”
After his arrest, Rayyan told a psychologist: “I have never been touched by a girl in any way nor have I touched one.”
Related: FBI Honeypot Ensnares Michigan Man