W.Pa. man to plead to Islamic terror posts
PITTSBURGH – A man accused of using the Internet to promote violence against Americans through posts he made as moderator of a popular, internationally known Islamic extremist Web forum has agreed to plead guilty.
Emerson Begolly, who remains incarcerated, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Virginia last month on charges he encouraged attacks on public buildings and military facilities, transportation systems, cellphone towers and water plants in the United States on posts to the Ansar al-Mujahideen English Forum.
According to a document signed by Begolly on Monday and filed on Tuesday with the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., he intends to plead guilty to the first count of that indictment after the case is transferred to U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh.
The count to which Begolly, 22, will plead guilty carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, but he has not agreed to plead guilty to a more serious count of distributing information about explosives and weapons of mass destruction, which carries a 20-year maximum sentence. That likely means federal prosecutors are prepared to drop that charge.
Begolly's federal public defender, Marketa Sims, did not immediately return a telephone call from The Associated Press seeking comment Tuesday.
But a U.S. District Court senior judge scheduled a change of plea hearing for Aug. 9 in a separate indictment returned earlier this year in Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review first reported that development, which pertains to charges that Begolly fought with and bit two FBI agents who approached him in a parked car while others searched his divorced parents' Pittsburgh-area homes on Jan. 4 while investigating his Internet activities.
Begolly, of Mayport, in western Pennsylvania, also is charged with using and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence because federal prosecutors contend he reached for a loaded 9mm pistol hidden in the military field jacket he was wearing that day.
Begolly's attorney had argued in trying to keep him out of jail pending trial that his response was violent because he has Asperger's syndrome, which was aggravated by FBI agents sneaking up on him as he sat in his mother's parked car. Unbeknownst to Begolly, his mother had agreed with the FBI to drive him to a neutral location while the homes were searched.
Because Begolly has already pleaded not guilty to the federal charges in Pennsylvania, the scheduled change of plea hearing means he has agreed to plead guilty or no contest to at least one of those charges, too.
The U.S. attorney's office in Pittsburgh declined to comment on the change of plea hearing. The federal prosecutor in Alexandria, Va., said the court paper Begolly signed to transfer his case to Pennsylvania speaks for itself.
Federal prosecutors from Virginia are expected to join their counterparts in Pittsburgh for a news conference following Begolly's court appearance there, which would suggest the cases will be disposed of at the same time.
Although Begolly wasn't indicted for his Internet activities until July, many were detailed in hearings to determine whether he should remain jailed until his trial on the Pittsburgh charges and whether the search of his father's home, where he lived in January, was legal.
Agents testified that Begolly posted pro-terrorist songs and poems online, made homemade terrorist training videos in which he fired assault rifles and chatted online with at least two other Americans being prosecuted for terrorism.
One of Begolly's online contacts was Colleen LaRose, an eastern Pennsylvania woman who dubbed herself Jihad Jane in a YouTube video that caught the FBI's attention in 2009. LaRose pleaded guilty in February to agreeing to try to kill a Swedish cartoonist who had offended Muslims, and she faces a life sentence.
The Virginia indictment doesn't mention such contacts but focuses instead on several posts Begolly made on the extremist website from July 2010 until just before the January raids in Pennsylvania. Among other things, Begolly "discussed favorably" the Sept. 11 terror attacks and Chechen rebels' killings of more than 300 hostages they took at a school in Beslan, Russia.
Begolly also commented positively on the terrorist kidnappings and beheadings of American businessman Nick Berg in Iraq and Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.
According to the Virginia indictment, Begolly discussed the need for such violent acts by writing, "Peaceful protests do not work. ... No peace. But bullets, bombs, and martyrdom operations."