The suspect accused of hoisting black flags on poles outside the Cyril E. King Airport was ordered held on $10,000 cash bail after making an initial court appearance Monday.
Defendant Alla H. Salem, 29, a native of St. Thomas, showed up to an advice of rights hearing without a lawyer. His charges, which were initially misdemeanors, were upgraded to grand larceny, conversion of government property and trespassing.
Some of the offenses charged at the time of arrest on Friday were changed after investigators found out more about Salem’s alleged actions.
Superior Court Magistrate Carolyn Percell set arraignment for July 19. When informed that the defendant would retain private counsel, Percell told Salem to have his lawyer in place by then.
When the defendant was unable to post bail, he was remanded to the St. Thomas Criminal Justice Complex.
Court documents lay out a time line leading up to Salem’s arrest on June 29. Detectives from the V.I. Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were called in after the Port Authority’s chief enforcement officer reported nine flags posted near the end of the airport runway fence were missing.
VIPA authorities said black banners printed with the word “Allah” and Arabic symbols were found hoisted on the flag poles.
Earlier that day, Det. Alex Dorsett said congregants of the St. Thomas Islamic mosque visited the Richard Callwood Command Police Station.
“Several members of the Nur Ahl-US-Sunnah Islamic Center … stated that they have some information relative to the flags down at the airport monument,” Dorsett said in court documents.
Authorities were told about an incident at the mosque on Thursday, at which Salem asked if anyone would help him create and hang some flags. The next days some members said they received cell phone voice messages and text messages from Salem, informing them that “all flags are down.”
“The members concluded by stating that they had nothing to do with the flag incident nor do they condone Mr. Salem’s actions,” Dorsett said.
Investigators then visited the home Salem shared with his father in Estate Lerkenlund. An inspection of the area turned up the nine flags reported missing by the Port Authority. They also discovered black curtains purchased at Home Depot, white paint and a store receipt for the purchase of the items.
Through teamwork between local and federal authorities, Salem was positively identified as the suspect. He was located during an inspection conducted in the area of Sugar Estate and taken into FBI custody.
The original charge of conversion of government property – the flags – was kept by prosecutor, but a minor charge of malicious mischief was dropped. The charge of petit larceny for the alleged theft of the flags was upgraded to grand larceny once the total cost of the items was calculated at $538.64.
As he signed the record of proceedings at the end of Monday’s hearing, the defendant added a message written in Arabic and English:
“I bear witness only one god – Ilah is worthy of worship and that’s Allah,” Salem wrote.
Born on St. Thomas on Sept. 3, 1988, Salem was noted to have one prior brush with the law when he was arrested in May 2016 and charged with simple assault related to domestic violence.
Court records show that charge was later dismissed with prejudice.