The FBI recently released an undercover video showing a young man discussing potential terrorist attacks in the San Francisco bay area.
23-year-old Amer Alhaggagi pleaded guilty in July to ‘attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group’. Both Alhaggagi’s family and his defense lawyers are seeking leniency from Judge Charles Breyer.
Alhaggagi faces anywhere from up to 47 years in prison to only six or seven.
An undercover FBI agent captured the footage of Alhaggagi more than two years ago. It’s now available to the public for the first time after the FBI released it to KQED.
‘Alarmed at the detail, sophistication and bloodthirstiness of his plans, a nationwide team of FBI agents worked around the clock first to identify the defendant, then to surveil him 24 hours a day, and finally to introduce an undercover agent to try and defuse his plans,’ prosecutors wrote of how the footage was obtained.
‘I’ve been so excited about it … I’m been hyped up,’ he says to the undercover agent in the video.
Some of the plans he discusses include distributing poison, setting fire to surrounding hills in the Berkeley and Oakland areas, and planting bombs.
‘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,’ he’s captured explaining.
‘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.’
According to Alhaggagi’s detention hearing in December 2016, he also discussed bombing gay nightclubs in San Francisco.
The Department of Justice attorney explained: ‘He then told confidential source number one, “I live close to San Francisco, that’s like the gay capital of the world. I’m going to handle them right, LOL,” meaning laughing out loud.
‘”‘I’m going to place a bomb in a gay club, Wallah or by God, I’m going to tear up the city.” And I quote, “The whole Bay Area is going to be up in flames.”‘
In summary of his plans, he says in the video: ‘I want to make it so that every American here thinks twice or three times before he leaves his home.’
Alhaggagi’s defense team is arguing he said a lot of disturbing things, but never posed a real threat.
One defense witness, Dr. Marc Sageman, a forensic psychologist and former CIA case agent, said: ‘My conclusion is Mr. Alhaggagi did not think of himself as a soldier for the Islamic State and in that sense, he is not a terrorist.’
He further described the defendant as a ‘coward who wrote disturbing things… but was never violent’.
Alhaggagi’s mother, Naayem, also pleaded for leniency. She said her son changed when the family moved to Yemen when Alhaggagi was about six.
‘I feel that the moment we arrived in Yemen and as he grew older, Amer was no longer the sweet young boy that came to me whenever something was bothering him,’ she wrote in a letter to the judge.
‘I believe my son has reached a breaking point in his life and I believe he genuinely needs the support and care of his family and community.’
The hearing continues in January.