In July, 23-year-old Amer Sinan Alhaggagi pleaded guilty to providing material support to ISIS. A DOJ press release at the time says Alhaggagi “admitted that in October and November of 2016, he created Twitter accounts and Facebook accounts along with the Gmail accounts that were necessary to authenticate them for individuals he believed were ISIS supporters.” But KQED reports Alhaggagi’s plans went beyond social media accounts. In videotaped meetings with an undercover FBI agent, he also discussed plants to bomb a gay nightclub, lace illicit drugs with poison and set wildfires.
“I want to make it to the point where every American here, like, thinks twice or three times before he leaves his home,” Amer Sinan Alhaggagi said on video as he toured the East Bay on July 29, 2016, with an undercover FBI agent posing as an al-Qaida operative. “That’s the goal. … All the burning, the explosives, the poison, all of that adds up to some conclusion, you know?”…
One plot involved lacing cocaine with strychnine — rodent poison — and distributing the deadly powder at nightclubs. Alhaggagi said he had already ordered the poison.
In what became a tour of Alhaggagi’s alleged targets in the East Bay, the two men discussed planting bombs in UC Berkeley dorms, and Alhaggagi said, “Yeah, I’d like to kill the students.”
They then drove into the Berkeley Hills, where Alhaggagi suggested starting a wildfire “and then it’ll spread.”
KPIX in San Francisco has a bit more of what is on the tapes:
“I’ve been so excited about it … I’m been hyped up,” Alhaggagi said while sitting in a car with an undercover FBI agent.
“The way I’m seeing it is we could get away so easily. Like if you want to plant a bomb and just walk into a place with a bomb, you wouldn’t have to do it yourself. There’s so many homeless people that would just do anything for a dollar. I could tell them to walk into the YMCA and they’ll do it and we could detonate it from outside.”…
KPIX 5 security analyst Jeff Harp said the young man seemed too comfortable talking about setting off bombs.
“He’s just very casual about it all,” Harp said. “And whether he’s just spouting off to inflate his ego doesn’t matter. You can’t do that. And if you do it in an undercover operation and you want to say that you’re going to harm the American people, the government is going to come after you for that.”
This discussion in the undercover agent’s car was all caught on tape. However, the defense is arguing that while Alhaggagi talked a good game, he never actually followed through on any of the plots and never planned to do so. Alhaggagi’s own attorney says that in real life he is a “coward.”
“Amer Alhaggagi is not a terrorist,” his defense attorney wrote. “He is neither radicalized nor dangerous. Rather, as prominent radicalization expert Dr. Marc Sageman has found, the entire catalogue of his online output constituted the made-up imaginings of an immature prankster who felt trapped in a strict and traditional home. He believed none of what he said, was surprised when anyone took him seriously and, in fact, is something of a coward.”
But prosecutors say he opened the social media accounts and helped spread real ISIS propaganda. He also had ISIS propaganda, including information on making bombs, at his home. And he continued discussing possible attacks in jail after he was arrested.
Listening to this guy, I’m not sure he’s the brightest bulb in the pack. Could he have successfully built a bomb? Maybe. But setting a fire in the hills wouldn’t have required much more than a can of gasoline and a match. And we’ve seen in the past few weeks how deadly a wildfire can be in California.
The sentencing phase begins today. At a minimum, Alhaggagi is likely to be sentenced to four years in prison but prosecutors are seeking a sentence of up to 33 years, arguing that if he had not been stopped by the FBI he would have carried out a plot.
Here’s a local news report which contains excerpts from the undercover video. If you want to see more, the full video is here.