Berkeley High graduate pleads guilty to trying to help terrorists, defense says it was a 'sting'

- A Berkeley High graduate who allegedly used social media to promote the Islamic State group has pleaded guilty to federal charges of attempting to support a terrorist organization, even though his defense attorney set he was set up in a "sting."

Amer Sinan Alhaggagi, 23,  pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group and three counts of identity theft before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer and about 100 family members and supporters, the East Bay Times reported. He could face decades in prison. He remains in Glenn E. Dyer jail in Oakland, where he’s being held without bail.

Authorities say Alhaggagi acknowledged that in 2016 he created social media accounts for people he believed were Islamic State supporters.

In a document attached to his new plea, Alhaggagi wrote that he was initially contacted by ISIS supporters through a chat app called Telegram in October of 2016. He admitted to engaging in "trolling" behavior, including falsely reporting other users of the app as Shiite Muslims in hopes moderators would block them, the East Bay Express reported. He re-posted pro-ISIS messages and was later approached by two individuals through the online forum who asked him to create social media accounts.

A court filing said Alhaggagi also met with undercover federal agents to plan a potential terrorist attack.

Prosecutors say Alhaggagi also possessed a device to make counterfeit credit cards and used a card in someone else's name to buy more than $1,000 worth of clothes online.

Alhaggagi allegedly told an undercover FBI agent that he wanted to kill 10,000 people in the Bay Area with bombs and rat-poison-laced cocaine that he planned to distribute at San Francisco nightclubs, according to court documents unsealed in July 2017.

He was arrested in November 2016 for ordering clothes online with a fake credit card, but was held in custody as federal authorities built their case against him.

Mary McNamara, Alhaggagi’s attorney, told the San Francisco Chronicle that her client “is a guy that is just being slammed by the system.”

“This is really a case about what the appropriate sentence should be, and here is a young guy who is immature, said some stupid things online, and the FBI sent out their best people to try to get a sting operation going,” McNamara told the Chronicle, noting that she is asking that Alhaggagi serve just six to seven years.

McNamara told the East Bay Times that this was a “failed sting operation” that led to no charges.

“The government sent out an undercover agent to get Amer to actually do something, take a step toward a terrorist offense,” she said. “He just wouldn’t do it.”

And she told the East Bay Express that when an undercover FBI agent asked Alhaggagi to shop for chemicals and bomb-making materials, he refused. He later broke off contact with one undercover agent.

He will now be sentenced in November.

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