A New Jersey-born woman who admitted to once using the alias “Umm Nutella” to help recruit fighters for the Islamic State over the internet is now asking a judge for leniency in her terrorism case – despite reservations from prosecutors who argue that she double-crossed them.
Sinmyah Amera Caesar, 24, pleaded guilty in 2017 to providing material support to the terrorist group after being arrested while trying to leave the country at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. She then offered information to the FBI about her ISIS contacts. But after being released on bail the following year – she attempted to get back in touch with her former associates and deleted about 1,000 Facebook messages in an effort to cover up her tracks, according to court papers cited by the Associated Press.
“Yes, she messed up,” her defense attorney, Deirdre Von Dornum, told a Brooklyn federal court Tuesday during a sentencing hearing. “We just need to give her a lot more help this time.”
Defense attorneys want Caesar sentenced to time served — about two years — and a lifetime of supervision that would include participating in a rehab program.
Yet prosecutors, who were burned by Caesar’s efforts to secretly get back in touch with her ISIS contacts after signing up as a cooperator, told U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein that she’s still a terror threat who deserves a severe punishment of at least 30 years behind bars.
The U.S. government, in their court papers, has described Caesar as “a committed recruiter and self-described ‘assistant’ to the terrorist group, connecting ISIS supporters in the United States to ISIS facilitators and operatives abroad.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Josh Hafetz said Tuesday that her interactions involved “two confirmed ISIS operatives” in the Middle East who were ultimately killed in air strikes.
Little was known about Caesar before the hearing because her case was largely kept under seal to protect her from retaliation while she offered the government assistance in identifying threats from ISIS.
Defense attorneys described Caesar as a high school dropout whose father sexually abused her and still suffers from severe trauma. She was living in Brooklyn in 2016 when she became radicalized by extremist propaganda and began interacting with other ISIS sympathizers as “Umm Nutella,” an apparent nod to social media posts purporting to show ISIS fighters enjoying the popular hazelnut cocoa spread.
She soon began advocating violent jihad in her Facebook posts, prosecutors claimed, including one written in Arabic from February 2016 that read, “Let’s go . . . let’s go like the soldiers.”
Using encrypted messages, she also corresponded with ISIS sympathizers, providing them with contact information for recruiters who could help them travel overseas or direct them about how to conduct attacks on U.S. soil, prosecutors said.
While out, Caesar started reaching out to former associates, an effort that included “multiple attempts to contact at least one individual against whom the defendant proactively cooperated,” court papers say.
Caesar, who is now back in jail, “has shown no contrition, taken no responsibility for her conduct and failed to separate herself from the extremist world she revealed in before her 2016 arrest,” court papers say.
The papers cite a 2018 message reading, “I didn’t do anything wrong under Islam. I got arrested for what I believe in.”
Weinstein is expected to continue the sentencing hearing Wednesday, telling the court “the question… is whether [Caesar] can be trusted.”
Fox News’ Kira Grant and the Associated Press contributed to this report.