California man sentenced to more than 15 years for trying to help terrorists

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Amer Alhaggagi Photo credit: Alhaggagi family / NBC Bay Area

Amer Sinan Alhaggagi was sentenced today to 188 months for attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization and identity theft charges.

“Alhaggagi wanted to carry out deadly terrorist attacks in the United States in the name of ISIS,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers.  “Today’s sentencing shows the dedication of the National Security Division and our partners to hold accountable those who seek to provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations and to conduct violence on their behalf.  I commend the work of the agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this case.”

“The highest priority of our counter-terrorism efforts is to prevent acts of violence before they occur,” said U.S. Attorney Anderson.  “Amer Alhaggagi hoped and intended to carry out acts of great cruelty in order to sow terror in our community.  Through the combined efforts of local and federal law enforcement, Alhaggagi was identified, apprehended, and prosecuted before he was able to commit the violence he schemed to commit.  This prosecution stands as an example of how homegrown extremists who seek to sow fear and panic into our communities can be stopped when law enforcement agencies work together.”

“Today is a tragedy for the Alhaggagi family and our community as we have lost yet another young person to the allure of extremist ideology focused on hatred and violence,” said John F. Bennett, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office.  “This sentence serves as a reminder of how persistent and pervasive online radicalization has become and this should be a precautionary example for individuals who may be tempted by terrorist propaganda.  The FBI, through our Joint Terrorism Task Forces, remains dedicated to protecting the United States against any form of terrorism and ensuring the safety of our community.”

Alhaggagi, 23, of Oakland, Calif., pleaded guilty to the charges on July 18, 2018.  In pleading guilty, Alhaggagi admitted he knowingly attempted to provide services and personnel to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2339B.  ISIS was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States Secretary of State in 2014.

Federal prosecutors filed sentencing memoranda disclosing additional details of Alhaggagi’s conduct prior to and after his arrest.  For example, beginning in July of 2016, Alhaggagi boasted online about a series of terrorist attacks he wanted to commit on behalf ISIS.  His aim was to “redefine terror,” and he promised that if he succeeded, the “whole Bay Area [was] gonna be in flames.”   Among his more vicious attacks, he planned to explode a car bomb outside a gay nightclub in San Francisco, and plant backpack bombs on routes known to be used by emergency vehicles, in an effort to kill first responders seeking to aid casualties.  In addition, even after his arrest, Alhaggagi hatched a new plot for a bomb attack and shared the plan with prison inmates.  At one point, Alhaggagi was driving through Berkeley towards the Oakland Hills with an undercover agent when he pointed out several bars and clubs “where all the students are.”  The defendant commented, “it’s a nice area to attack… it’s like, everybody’s in their own world, just doing their thing.”  He told the undercover agent that there were even more crowded areas in San Francisco that could make for good targets and said, “it’s not hard to target places, because there’s people everywhere.  But I was trying to target, you know, like clubs, you know, like dance clubs, bars… stuff like that . . ..”

In pleading guilty, Alhaggagi admitted to the following:

  • 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.
  • Alhaggagi admitted that in the Fall of 2016 he communicated with two individuals who asked him to set up social media accounts.  Alhaggagi communicated with the individuals from his computer while he was in Oakland, Calif., and admitted opening several Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail accounts at their request.  Alhaggagi also admitted knowing that both of the individuals were ISIS sympathizers and that by opening the social media accounts he was providing a service to ISIS.  The investigation demonstrated at least one of the individuals Alhaggagi opened accounts for was an actual member of ISIS.
  • Alhaggagi admitted that on Nov. 29, 2016, the day of his arrest, he possessed a device used to make counterfeit credit cards and that between July and August 2016, he used a credit card with someone else’s name to buy more than $1,000 worth of clothes for himself online.

A federal grand jury indicted Alhaggagi on July 21, 2017, with one count of knowingly attempting to provide services and personnel to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2339B; one count of possessing an identity theft device, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(4); one count of unauthorized identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(2); and one count of aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A.  Alhaggagi pleaded guilty to all the charges without a written agreement.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Breyer ordered the defendant to serve 10 years supervised release.

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