By Amanda Milkovits
BOSTON -- A Warwick, R.I., man, who stated he feels "at war" with those who oppose the Islamic State, is accused of conspiring with two Boston men to attack and behead a critic of Islam.
Nicholas Rovinski, 24, was ordered detained after appearing in a packed courtroom at U.S. District Court Friday afternoon. The thin young man with a long dark beard said little, except in response to the judge's questions. His mother sat silently in the crowd.
When asked about bail, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Siegmann told the judge that Rovinski posed a "significant threat to public safety." He was ordered held for a week and limped away in shackles.
Rovinski is the second person to be charged in the alleged terror plot involving a blogger who had hosted a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest. The plot collapsed after a third man allegedly decided instead to martyr himself by attacking police officers, who killed him in Boston on June 2.
Usaamah Abdullah Rahim, 26, drew a long-bladed fighting knife on Boston police officers and FBI agents as they approached him in a parking lot in the city's Roslindale neighborhood. They told him to drop his weapon; he refused and moved toward the officers, who shot him to death, according to Boston Police Commissioner Williams Evans.
Rahim's death led to the arrest that same day of his nephew David Wright, 25, of Everett, who remains held on a charge of obstructing justice, and to the presence of law enforcement at Rovinski's home at 167 Aspinet Drive in Warwick for more than a week.
Rovinski was arrested by the FBI Thursday evening, on a charge of conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State, also known as ISIL. Wright now also faces the same charge.
U.S. District Court Judge Donald Cabell ordered Rovinski detained until a probable cause and bail hearing next Friday at 2 p.m., when Wright is also expected to appear at a detention hearing.
While some of Rovinski's family members appeared in court, none spoke to the media. Neither did the two lawyers accompanying him, Providence federal public defender Olin Thompson and Boston federal public defender William W. Fick, who had also represented Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the Boston Marathon bombing trial.
However, an affidavit by an FBI special agent filed Friday in U.S. District Court provided more details about the men's relationships and the alleged plot.
The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation alleges that Rovinski was drawn to a radical life after converting to Islam two years ago.
In the 21-page affidavit, the FBI said that Rovinski submitted to an interview with law enforcement about his views.
"He told the agents that he fully supported the recently publicized acts of ISIL fighters in the Middle East such as beheadings and military attacks on forces who oppose ISIL," the affidavit states. "Rovinski stated that the beheadings ... were both warnings and a method of warfare. He stated that he feels he is 'at war' with those who oppose ISIL ... He also indicated he is prepared to fight anyone who is an enemy of ISIL, including Americans if necessary, to accomplish ISIL's ultimate goal."
That includes his family, who Rovinski said would be required to live within ISIL's parameters and that "if they were to refuse, they must be killed," the affidavit stated.
The Pilgrim High School graduate walks with a limp from cerebral palsy and lives with his mother and younger brother in Warwick's Governor Francis Farms, near the beach at Gaspee Point.
Neighbors and residents who know the family said they noticed some changes in Rovinski. He began wearing a head scarf and would stop to pray outside. Some teenagers said he sometimes visited their hangout deep in the woods off a dead-end. Some of the adults said Rovinski talked about converting and said he loved his new religion.
Rovinski changed his name to Nuh Amriki and uploaded videos to his YouTube channels of radical Islamic clerics accused of promoting terrorism, according to the affidavit.
His YouTube channels show a progression.
First, the radical Islamists, including Abu Haleema, the preacher in London who was banned last month from using social media after being arrested on suspicion of encouraging terrorism, and Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammad, a Syrian-born Islamist preacher banned from Britain, who is blamed for radicalizing British jihadists.
Rovinski also signed up for "Halalmates," a dating and marriage advice site for Islamists, according to a view of his YouTube channels. He also uploaded jihadi "nasheeds," or chants, including one calling for people to sacrifice themselves to ISIL, according to the FBI.
Then came the videos of survivalists and "doomsday preppers" showing how to live off the grid. Most recently, videos of a bladesmith who showed how to make knives. Rovinski "liked" one video about making a machete without power tools.
During this time, according to law enforcement, Rovinski was also connecting with two Boston men, who were interested in jihad.
Rovinski later told FBI agents that he met Wright on Facebook about a year ago. Wright also goes by Dawud Sharif Abdul Khaliq. Wright's uncle is Rahim.
All three men came under surveillance by the Joint Terrorism Task force, which learned in May of their plans to behead blogger Pamela Geller, who hosted the Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, in early May, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court.
Two armed men opened fire outside the contest in Garland, but were killed by law enforcement. ISIL soon called for Geller's "slaughter."
The FBI alleges that Rovinski, Wright and Rahim decided to answer ISIL's call to action. Some of their text messages and recorded phone conversations are included in the affidavit.
Rahim bought three large fighting knives from Amazon.com, and then drove with Wright to Rhode Island on May 31 to meet Rovinski and discuss their plans, according to the court affidavit.
The three men stood on a Warwick beach for about two hours, talking in the rain. Rovinski later told the FBI that they talked about various aspects of Islam and plans to attack its enemies, the affidavit stated. They were going to track and behead a woman — believed to be Geller — in New York, though Rovinski was unsure what specifically each of them would do, the affidavit stated.
Two days later, on June 2, Rahim called Wright to change his plans, the affidavit stated. He couldn't wait and decided to "go on vacation" — what the FBI says is a euphemism for violent jihad — by going after the "boys in blue," the affidavit said. Wright advised him to clean up his laptop and get rid of his phone as a precaution in the event of a police search, the FBI said.
Two hours later, Rahim was shot and killed by the police after he allegedly swung at them with one of the long-bladed knives. Wright was arrested at his home, and FBI and state police went to Rovinski's home in Warwick, where a police presence remained until his arrest Thursday evening.
Now both men face up to 15 years in federal prison if convicted.
Ironically, Rovinski and Wright had discussed the law against conspiring to provide material support to foreign terrorists in late May, the affidavit stated. Rovinski explained the need for discretion.
"The one person that I ... had a bond with is actually not here anymore," Rovinski said in a recorded conversation. "He's, let's just say he's overseas."
Wright asked, "Ah, OK, so he went on 'vacation'?"
"Yeah," Rovinski answered. According to the affidavit, they both laughed.