July 19, 2018 / 2:48 AM / 2 months ago

California man pleads guilty to terrorism charges

(Reuters) - A California man pleaded guilty on Wednesday to opening social media accounts to provide support to Islamic State, according to court documents.

Amer Sinan Alhaggagi, 23, said he opened Twitter and Facebook accounts for two people he believed to be Islamic State supporters. Some of the Twitter accounts were subsequently used by the group to distribute news, according to a copy of his plea statement seen by Reuters.

Alhaggagi pleaded guilty to a charge of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group and three unrelated charges connected with use of a stolen credit card to buy clothing.

The case showed the risks to U.S. citizens, no matter what their intent, of providing any service to individuals claiming to be Islamic State supporters, his lawyer said.

“Amer is not a violent guy, he’s not an anti-American guy he’s not a radicalized guy,” said his lawyer August Gugelmann in a phone interview. “He is a kid who said a lot of dumb things on the internet, attracted the attention of the FBI, then opened these accounts.”

By pleading guilty to the charges, Alhaggagi is seeking a more lenient sentence than the maximum 47 years imprisonment and fine of $250,000 per charge, Gugelmann said.

Federal prosecutors have said Alhaggagi, in chats with an undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, spoke of carrying out attacks on the University of California, Berkeley and in San Francisco.

Alhaggagi came onto the radar of Islamic State and the FBI after he tried to troll users of the Telegram instant messaging service who had blocked him, according to his plea statement.

He took on the role of an Islamic State supporter in a Telegram chatroom and said the users who blocked him were Shiites. He hoped Sunni supporters of Islamic State in the chat would block these users due to their opposition to the Shia branch of Islam, according to his statement.

Alhaggagi, who is of Yemeni ancestry, made pro-Islamic State statements in the chatroom that attracted the notice of the FBI. It also led two Telegram users to ask him to open social media accounts for Islamic State. At least one of the users was an Islamic State member, according to the U.S. government.

“He was playing a role and then he was asked to do this (open the accounts) as a favor and he did it without thinking through what it actually meant,” said Gugelmann.

A sentencing hearing is expected in November, Gugelmann said.

Reporting By Andrew Hay; editing by Richard Pullin

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