Over the weekend we learned of a West Oakland man who attempted to join ISIS, and was indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly creating social media accounts for the terrorist organization and meeting with undercover agents to plot an attack. Now prosecutors have released audio and text messages from the suspect, 22-year-old Amer Sinan Al Haggagi, that they say show he was planning several attacks here in the Bay Area some of which hit close to home in more ways than one.
According to KQED, Al Haggagi is alleged to have planned to set brush fires in the Berkeley Hills, sell cocaine laced with strychnine in SF clubs, and plot Pulse nightclub-style attacks in which he’d intended to plant packs of explosives at local gay bars.
“I live close to San Francisco. That’s like the gay capitol [sic] of the world. I’m going to handle them right. LOL,” Al Haggagi allegedly to texted to an undercover federal agent, thinking he was communicating with domestic ISIS terrorists. “‘I’m going to place a bomb in a gay club. I’m going to tear up the city. The whole Bay Area is going to be up in flames. My ideas are genius. LMAO.”
Al Haggagi originally caught the attention of federal agents with the far less drastic crime of stealing $5,000 in clothing via credit card fraud. But prosecutors say the fraud and the terrorism are linked, as Al Haggagi allegedly told FBI agents he had the means “to make the cards and checks,” and that “I’m trying to make bombs. I’m going to need funds.”
“He wanted to plan to start a huge fire in an area near where he lived and he specifically mentioned the Berkeley hills as a potential target,” assistant U.S. attorney Waqar Hasib said at recently revealed hearing in December. “That was our first indication that we were dealing with someone in the Bay Area.”
Al Haggagi is also alleged to have planned to sell cocaine laced with the rodent poison strychnine, and had applied to work at the Oakland Police Department with the goal of stealing their weapons.
His defenders argue that the then-21-year-old Al Haggagi was just being a deplorable teen with a big mouth, and had no concrete intention of ever doing any of this. “There is a bit of a disconnect between Mr. Al Haggagi’s words and his actions,” his previous attorney Hanni Fakhoury said in recently disclosed court arguments. Fakhoury did not dispute the validity of the messages, but referred to them as simply “very stupid and very inappropriate and very disturbing puffery.”
Al Haggagi’s current attorney Mary McNamara also points out that her client dropped all communications with the undercover agents, and months passed without him following through on any of these plans.
“What is clear from that hearing is that Mr. Al Haggagi ran away when he believed that things had gone beyond talk with the undercover agent,” she told KQED. “Mr. Al Haggagi never re-engaged with him and never took any steps to commit any violent act. Unlike most of the cases charged under this statute, Mr. Al Haggagi is not radicalized, is not a supporter of ISIS or any terrorist network. He is a peaceful, sociable and well-liked person. He is also young and naïve. It appears that he allowed himself to be drawn into conversations that he should have been far more suspicious of.”