Wilkinsburg man accused of Taliban sympathies pleads guilty to gun charge

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A Wilkinsburg man with a history of felonies who was photographed and videotaped by a friend while holding a rifle and who FBI agents characterized as a Taliban sympathizer tearfully pleaded guilty today to charges that could land him a lengthy prison term.

Facing documentation that he was on a Trafford firing range on July 4, 2010, with a Mossberg Model 380 in his hands, Khalifa Ali Al-Akili, 35, pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm.

He told U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak that "everything that [a prosecutor] said that I did is true. I didn't know that I was breaking the law when I went to the gun range. My wife, she is not a citizen of this country, and I have a daughter, [so] that it's real rough to accept the fact that I have to do 10 years of my life in prison for something that didn't hurt nobody."

Formerly known as James Marvin Thomas Jr., Al-Akili has an extensive criminal past including drug-dealing charges.

If the court discounts most of his prior convictions, he would face a maximum of 10 years in prison.

But if the court considers all of those prior cases to be relevant to the sentence, he could face a minimum of 15 years.

Judge Hornak is scheduled to impose sentence March 21.

At a preliminary hearing March 16, an FBI agent showed video and photos taken and then emailed by one of Al-Akili's two companions on the Independence Day trip to the range.

The agent also said that the bureau found "jihadist" literature in the man's apartment, and that they are aware of pro-Taliban statements he made during a past stay in prison and to FBI informants.

None of that came up at the guilty plea hearing, which focused on the evidence that Al-Akili possessed -- at least briefly -- a rifle despite being a felon.

"I don't really think this is fair as far as the time they want to give him," said Mr. Al-Akili's mother, Donna Spino, after the hearing. "I do wish that the judge would have a little bit of heart and understand that he made a mistake. ... He wants to be a father and he wants to raise his daughter" who is almost 2 years old, she said.

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 and on Twitter: @richelord.


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