Judge sentences Oakland man who sought to aid Islamic State to 15 years in prison

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SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) A federal judge in San Francisco on Tuesday sentenced a 23-year-old Oakland man to 15 years and eight months in prison for attempting to aid a foreign terrorist organization - namely, the Islamic State - by setting up social media accounts.

Amer Alhaggagi pleaded guilty to the charge before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer last year. 

The sentence imposed by Breyer included two years for additional convictions on charges of identity theft and creation of a counterfeit credit card, to which Alhaggagi also pleaded guilty. 

Breyer said he found the most disturbing aspect of the case to be Alhaggagi's "total lack of empathy" for potential victims of never-completed bombing plots he discussed with an undercover FBI agent in 2016.

"If people lack empathy, they are extremely dangerous," the judge said.  

The secretly recorded plots included bombing a gay nightclub in San Francisco, bombing student dormitories at the University of California at Berkeley, setting fires in the Berkeley Hills and poisoning nightclub patrons by lacing cocaine with strychnine. 

"There's a lack of empathy for students, for people who go to a nightclub. There's no sympathy for them or compassion," Breyer said.

Defense attorney Mary McNamara argued that Alhaggagi's talk was just grandiose jokes by a socially immature young man who was a goofy "class clown."

She said Alhaggagi never intended to carry out the attacks and never bought poison or bomb-making materials on a list provided by the undercover agent.

But Breyer said a joke about violent attacks in the current era "is not a joke. It is a very serious matter." He noted that Alhaggagi downloaded a manual on how to build a bomb.

Alhaggagi was born in Lodi to Yemeni parents and spent some of his childhood in Yemen and some in California, where he attended Berkeley High School. The courtroom was filled during the sentencing with Yemeni-American supporters, some of whom sent Breyer letters saying they believe Alhaggagi is 
not dangerous.

Alhaggagi's sentence includes a 10-year term of supervised release after he completes his prison term.

Prosecutors, arguing that Alhaggagi was "ready and willing to carry out his attacks," sought a sentence of 36 years. McNamara asked for eight or nine years, plus supervised release. 

Alhaggagi spoke briefly before being sentenced. 

Referring to undercover videos shown during the sentencing, he told Breyer, "I find it hard to look at and listen to all the horrible things I said to the undercover agent. I made myself look like a crazy person.

"I apologize to my family and everyone in here," Alhaggagi said.