Palestinian man who plotted to kill Jews in Houston arrested on federal firearms charges
The city hall building in Houston lit up for Israel’s independence day in April 2021 
Photo: Courtesy of Israeli-American Council

By Andrew Lapin
November 6, 2023

(JTA) — A Palestinian man living in the Houston area has been charged by the FBI with illegal possession of a firearm after reportedly plotting to attack a Jewish gathering.

The man, 20-year-old Sohaib Abuyyash, was arrested Oct. 19 on federal charges unsealed on Friday. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Texas, he “has been conducting physical training and has trained with weapons to possibly commit an attack.” Abuyyash has Jordanian citizenship and was in the United States on an expired visa. 

CNN, quoting an unnamed law enforcement source, reported that Abuyyash was “plotting to attack a Jewish gathering” and spoke of “martyrdom.” The suspect also appeared with pistols and assault weapons in firearms training videos posted to social media.

Abuyyash has also “been in direct contact with others who share a radical mindset,” according to the FBI indictment. He is set to be arraigned on Nov. 13 and faces up to 15 years in prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine.

In a message to the local Jewish community, the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston thanked the FBI for its work on the case and advised local Jews to check their security protocols and “remain vigilant.”

“When an arrest like that is made it sends two messages to our community,” the federation’s CEO, Renée Wizig-Barrios, told local news outlets. “The first message is the FBI is doing an excellent job of pursuing these terrorists, and we’re grateful for that. And it also is fearful for people.” 

She added, “We’re not going to take our mezuzah off our doors.”

The case has attracted interest from FBI Director Christopher Wray, who referenced the arrest during a Senate hearing last week as Jews across the United States have faced a reported increase in antisemitism amid Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas. Wray said antisemitism had reached “historic levels” since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel sparked a war in Gaza between the terror group and Israel.

Wray testified that Abuyyash expressed “support for killing Jews.”

For now, Abuyyash has not been charged in conjunction with any planned antisemitic attacks. He is being held, pending further criminal proceedings, for illegally possessing a firearm — the most immediate charge for which the FBI could arrest him while it continues its investigation, according to CNN. 

Abuyyash moved to the United States from Jordan in 2016 on a tourist visa and applied for asylum in the United States after his visa expired in 2019. According to CNN, he had been authorized to work in the country under the condition that he not “possess or use any firearms or ammunition.”

During testimony to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Tuesday, Wray called attention to Abuyyash’s arrest when discussing the risks of domestic terrorism threats in the United States in the wake of the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

“Here in the United States, our most immediate concern is that violent extremists, individuals or small groups, will draw inspiration from the events in the Middle East to carry out attacks against Americans going about their daily lives,” Wray said during the hearing. “That includes not just homegrown violent extremists inspired by a foreign terrorist organization but also domestic violent extremists targeting Jewish or Muslim communities.”

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