SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — An East Bay man who admitted to setting up social media for ISIS will go before a judge Monday for the punishment phase of his case that brought federal charges against him of attempting to support a terrorist organization.
23-year-old Amer Alhaggagi of Oakland, a Berkeley High School graduate originally from Yemen, faces decades in prison.
His lawyer and his family insist that Alhaggagi is not a terrorist, but instead is a sarcastic young man who likes to brag and get a rise out of people.
An undercover FBI video just released to KQED shows Alhaggagi appearing exuberant about planning to kill people.
“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.”
In a detention document filed in December of 2017, federal prosecutors told the court that Alhaggagi had spent significant time in Yemen and had allegedly met undercover agents on “numerous occasions to plan a potential terrorist attack.”
Authorities say Alhaggagi acknowledged that in 2016, he created social media accounts for people he believed were Islamic State supporters, but that his plans were more elaborate than that.
Prosecutors said Alhaggagi had bragged about wanting to kill 10,000 people in the Bay Area and had signed up to join the Oakland Police department so he could steal weapons to help him kill innocent people.
Prosecutors say other plots by Alhaggagi included bombing gay bars, planting backpack bombs on the campus of UC Berkeley and combining rat poison with illicit drugs.
Below is a transcript of the dialogue between Alhaggagi and the undercover agent provided by authorities:
UA: My cousin told me you ordered some stuff?
ALHAGGAGI: Yeah, Strychnine.
ALHAGGAGI: We were thinking about selling it as drugs or mixing it in drugs.
UA: What kind of drugs?
ALHAGGAGI: Cocaine, because it’s the same color as cocaine.
UA: So you ordered the poison? But do you have the cocaine?
ALHAGGAGI: Yeah, I could get the cocaine any day.
Alhaggagi’s family released a statement insisting he is not a terrorist:
“Amer did not commit or plan a violent act–he opened a small number of social media accounts for ISIS sympathizers. He knows now that this was wrong and is sorry to have caused so much trouble. Amer has the support of his family and his community, who are committed to working with him and making sure that he will be well integrated into daily life when he is released from prison. We are very grateful to all our family and friends in the Oakland community who have stood by Amer and the family in this very difficult time.”
Late in the video, Alhaggagi can be heard explaining how he wants people to react to the violence of multiple terrorist attacks: “I want to make it to point where every American here thinks twice or three times before he leaves his home. Like, ‘is it necessary for me to leave right now?’ Like, that’s how I want it to be.”
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.”
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer will begin hearing arguments in the punishment phase at 9:30 a.m. Monday. Prosecutors are asking for 33 years in prison. Alhaggagi and his attorney are asking the judge to consider the fact that, in the end, Alhaggagi never did commit any violence.