Federal prosecutors charged a former FBI translator with lying about contacts with the subject of a terror investigation, the Justice Department announced Monday.
Abdirizak Haji Raghe Wehelie, 66, of St. Burk, Virginia, was arrested on Saturday, authorities said, and appeared before a federal magistrate judge Monday afternoon. Prosecutors did not seek Wehelie’s detention at his hearing and he was placed on a $20,000 bond ahead of an arraignment set for May 24, according to the court docket.
CNN has reached out to an attorney listed for Wehelie.
Wehelie faces seven charges of making false statements to investigators and one for obstructing a federal investigation, the indictment said, and he faces up to 25 years in prison. An attorney for Wehelie was not immediately listed.
Wehelie worked for a government contractor and was assigned to be an FBI linguist and translator from 2012 through 2015, according to the indictment, which was filed last December and unveiled on Monday.
Prosecutors alleged that Wehelie translated a voicemail message from an individual under surveillance and concealed that it was his own voice in the audio he translated. The indictment unsealed on Monday did not allege Wehelie provided material support to those under terrorism investigation.
The indictment said in 2012, he translated a message captured through surveillance of a subject referred to as “Person A,” which Person A left on Wehelie’s own device. Person A, according to prosecutors, was suspected of “having conspired with and aided and abetted” someone who traveled to Somalia to join Al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-affiliated terror group. The latter person was on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List, according to the indictment.
Despite his own voice in the voicemail he was translating, Wehelie listed himself as “unidentified male,” the court documents said. A grand jury also charged Wehelie with making additional false statements to investigators when he was interviewed in 2016.
When interviewed in 2016, Wehelie told FBI agents he was “surprised” that the person was a surveillance target, but he admitted in the interview he was aware of an FBI search of the person’s home weeks prior to the voicemail. Wehelie, according to the indictment, made statements to the FBI about his handling of the translation and his relationship with the surveillance subject that were not true. The indictment said Wehelie told the FBI he did not know the person “very well,” but the FBI’s investigation “revealed that there were 179 unique telephone contacts between Wehelie and Person A between July 2010 and September 2017” and that Wehelie was seen spending time with the person at least three times.
In a later interview, Wehelie “admitted that he and Person A’s father were very close and that he has known Person A since Person A was young.”
“Wehelie said that Person A regarded Wehelie as an uncle,” the indictment said.