HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. — A Helena-West Helena convenience store employee has been charged with providing support to an Al-Qa’ida terror group, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday.
Bilal Al-Rayanni, also known as Bilal Kassim Alawdi, 28, was charged in an indictment Thursday. Al-Rayanni, who is from Yemen, is in custody after he was arrested June 27 for allegedly providing a false name on a passport application.
The indictment alleges that between October and December 2014, while outside the United States, Al-Rayanni tried to provide support, resources and personnel, including himself, to Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, knowing that it was a designated terrorist organization.
On the terror charge, Al-Rayanni faces up to 20 years in prison, and up to 15 years on the passport charge.
Al-Rayanni is known by some in Helena-West Helena as Billy.
“He was alright. Kind of laidback,” said one convenience store clerk.
“Billy crazy, man. He a terrorist? Billy never act like no terrorist. He was [scared],” said a woman who said she’s known Al-Rayanni for about six years.
He most recently worked at the Rusty’s convenience store on North 4th Street in Helena-West Helena where he was described as a decent employee.
“He was a good worker, yeah,” said a clerk.
Asked about the terror charge, he responded, “I don’t know nothing about that. I don’t know nothing.”
The Phillips County Clerk’s Office confirmed to WREG that a man using the name Bilal Alawdi — Al-Rayanni’s alias — registered to vote in 2017, but said they had no record of him actually casting a ballot.
Prosecutors described him as a Yemeni national, yet when asked if they were aware he was registered to vote in the U.S., the U.S. Attorney’s Office said they were unable to comment.
The case is being investigated by the FBI’s Little Rock Division, the Little Rock Joint Terrorism Task Force and the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, and is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas and the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.
Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula is also known as Ansar al-Shari’a.