Joshua Ryne Goldberg turns out not to be a convert to Islam at all, but a kid playing around on the computer who got in over his head. It’s not at all uncommon for people to pretend to be other people on the Internet. For Joshua Ryne Goldberg it all probably started out as a game: could he fool Muslims and non-Muslims alike into believing him to be a serious, knowledgeable, committed jihadist? He could. But it proved to be a dangerous game, in which he colluded with and encouraged jihad mass murderers. And when he posted photos of a supposed pressure cooker bomb he was claiming to build, the question becomes, was he going to follow through? Was he going to keep up his jihad act even to the extent of setting off a bomb? Or had his little game just gotten terribly, terribly out of hand?
An update on this story. “FBI says ‘Australian IS jihadist’ is actually a Jewish American troll named Joshua Ryne Goldberg,” by Elise Potaka and Luke McMahon, The Age, September 11, 2015 (thanks to Michael):
A 20-year-old whose online identity was ‘Australi Witness’ – an ISIS agent apparently living in Perth – has been arrested at his parents’ place in Florida over plotting a bomb attack at a 9/11 memorial event.
A young Jewish American man has been charged with pretending to be an Australian-based Islamic State jihadist after a FBI joint investigation with the Australian Federal Police based on information provided by Fairfax Media.
Joshua Ryne Goldberg, a 20-year old living at his parents’ house in US state of Florida, is accused of posing online as “Australi Witness,” an IS supporter who publicly called for a series of attacks against individuals and events in western countries.
In recent days Australi Witness has claimed online that he is working with other jihadists to plan attacks in Australia and the United States. He distributed pictures of a bomb that he was working on with “2 lbs of explosives inside”.
The device appears to resemble a “pressure cooker bomb”, similar to the type of explosive used in the Boston Marathon attack.
Early on Friday, Australian time, Goldberg, who is non-Muslim and has no real-world links with extremism, was arrested at his home by Florida police for “distribution of information relating to explosives, destructive devices, and weapons of mass destruction”.
Australian national security and citizenship laws were strengthened last year to create a new offence of advocating terrorism, partly to stop online recruitment of jihadists, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott earlier this year allocated significant funding to security agencies because “too many Australians are being brainwashed online by this death cult”.
However, one of those apparent representatives of Islamic State has now been revealed as an America-based, non-Muslim online hoaxer.
The Australian Federal Police do not intend to apply for Goldberg’s extradition, but said in a statement that he faced a 20-year prison term if convicted.
“Investigations by the AFP in June 2015 established no initial threat to the Australian community. When investigations determined it was likely the person responsible for these threats was based in the United States, the investigation became the jurisdiction of the FBI, with the AFP in a support role.”
AFP Acting Deputy Commissioner National Security Neil Gaughan alleged Goldberg had “relied on the internet providing a cloak of anonymity”.
“This operation again highlights how law enforcement can investigate people in the online space and use our long-established partnerships to work with overseas agencies to bring people to account for their actions”.
An affidavit sworn at the time of the arrest says that, between August 19 and August 28, Mr Goldberg “distributed information pertaining to the manufacturing of explosives, destructive devices, or weapons of mass destruction in furtherance of an activity that constitutes a Federal crime of violence”.
US Attorney Lee Bentley III, said Goldberg instructed a confidential source how to make a bomb similar to two used in the Boston Marathon bombings two years ago that killed three people and injured more than 260 others.
He allegedly instructed someone how to fill the bomb with nails, metal and other items dipped in rat poison.
Police base the charge on his communication of five web links to sites that provided instructions that could be used to make explosives as part of a plot to explode a bomb on September 13 at a memorial ceremony in Kansas City, commemorating the 9/11 the terrorist attacks.
The affidavit, released by Special agent William Berry of US Customs and Border Protection, says that Goldberg had initially denied to officers that he had any involvement with distributing information on how to make a bomb, but then later admitted it.
“Goldberg further admitted that he believed the information would create a genuine bomb,” Agent Berry alleged.
However, Goldberg also claimed that he meant for the person he was communicating with to either kill himself creating the bomb or, that Goldberg intended to warn police in time so that he would receive “credit for stopping the attack”.
In conversations with Fairfax Media, which were also cited in the affidavit, Mr Goldberg had said he did not expect any jihadist to actually carry out an attack because: “These guys are pussy keyboard warriors”.
Fairfax media can also reveal that Goldberg, as Australi Witness, is suspected of a number of other online hoaxes, including posing online as prominent Australian lawyer, Josh Bornstein.
Australi Witness’s online actions might have had fatal real-world consequences in May.
In the leadup to an exhibition in Garland, Texas, at which pictures of the Prophet Mohammed were to be displayed, “Australi Witness” tweeted the event’s address and reposted a tweet urging people to go there with “weapons, bombs or with knifes”.
Two Muslim men attempted an attack at the exhibition, and were killed by police. Australi Witness then praised them online as martyrs.