A federal district judge ruled last week that Amer Alhaggagi, a Berkeley High School graduate who was sentenced to 15 years in high-security prison for providing material support to ISIS in 2019, would be receiving a reduced sentence.
According to judicial documents, Alhaggagi had developed a fascination with ISIS on the internet, and caught the attention of federal law enforcement after posting online about killing 10,000 people across the Bay Area by setting off bombs in San Francisco nightclubs and UC Berkeley dorms, setting fire to the Berkeley Hills and distributing cocaine laced with strychnine on Halloween.
“His persona allegedly had associates in Mexican cartels who could get him grenades, bazookas, and RPGs, offered to join a user in Brazil to attack the Olympics,” the documents state. “(Alhaggagi) was considering conducting attacks in Dubai.”
But it was not this that got Alhaggagi arrested. Alhaggagi was arrested after he started a Twitter account for a member of ISIS, said Alhaggagi’s lawyer, August Gugelmann. Alhaggagi pleaded guilty to providing “material support” for a terrorist group.
However, Gugelmann argued that Alhaggagi was less a homegrown terrorist than a perennial prankster.
“He was a real troll,” Gugelmann said. “He liked pushing people’s buttons and trying to see if he could get a reaction out of people. But when it looked like this was the real deal, he ran away, he didn’t want any part of it.”
As part of both ISIS-sympathetic Sunni groups and anti-ISIS Shiite groups, Alhaggagi would “troll” users, claiming that certain users were Shiite if he were in a Sunni chat room, or Sunni if he were in a Shiite chat room, in an attempt to get other users to block them, according to the legal documents and Gugelmann. Through these channels, he came in contact with ISIS members. Alhaggagi was arrested in November of 2016.
District Judge Charles Breyer found that the so-called “terrorism enhancement,” which greatly increases sentences in cases of terrorism, applied to this case. Alhaggagi was sentenced to more than 15 years despite never committing any acts of violence, Gugelmann said.
Alhaggagi was sent to a high-security prison, and his lawyers appealed. The 9th Circuit Court found that the enhancement did not apply, and his case sent back to the lower district court for resentencing, who reduced his sentence from 188 months to 81 months, according to Gugelmann, who expects that Alhaggagi will be released within the year.
“Two hundred people showed up at his sentencing to show support for him because the community understood that he was not the person that the government was saying he was,” Gugelmann said. “He was not any kind of terrorist, nor did he want to be. He was an immature kid who did really reckless stuff.”