A Hopatcong woman admitted Tuesday she sent money and gave advice to terrorist organizations in Syria fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad's regime, according to federal authorities.
Maria Bell, 54, a former U.S. Army soldier in the 1980s, appeared before a U.S. District judge in Newark and pleaded guilty to knowingly concealing the provision of material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization. She faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 when she is sentenced in November, according to a statement from U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito.
She was initially arrested at her home on Nov. 25, 2020.
While it is not clear what specific details she pleaded guilty to, Bell admitted that between February 2018 and November 2018, she was aware she was communicating with and providing funds and support to unnamed fighters in Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a Syrian terrorist organization that split five years ago from the militant Islamic organization al-Qaeda, which was founded by Osama bin Laden. Bell, who also served in the Army National Guard, used her expertise to provide guidance to members on matters of operational security, communications and firearms purchases, according to court records.
Bell purportedly used encrypted apps to send messages to fighters and sent 18 payments totalling $3,150 to people in Turkey and Syria allied with the group, court records show.
Bell was believed to be romantically involved with one specific fighter between 2017 and 2018, according to a criminal complaint, and in her communications, she gave him advice on what weapons to purchase and had agreed to meet him in Turkey. She attempted to travel to Turkey in November 2018, but she was stopped by authorities and denied access, records show.
The duo also spoke of 9/11 — Bell purportedly wrote to the fighter "It was sad but Americans have little idea ofconsequences" — and often discussed the Syrian war, according to records.
"If Assad wins, I cannot get a visa into Syria," Bell purportedly wrote to the fighter. "I cannot come to you."
The fighter, in response, said, "We do not defeat we win or die."
Bell then responded, "I understand. I would rather see you die."
It was unclear how the two met, but Bell allegedly said in one message that the fighter "brought me to Islam and introduced me to a place and people where I am peaceful and happy."
In 2018, HTS was named to the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Lori Comstock can be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.
This article originally appeared on New Jersey Herald: Hopatcong NJ woman admits giving money to Syria terrorists