Online statements, arsenal of weapons keep suspect in jail


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A 21-year-old loner from Armstrong County had an arsenal in his bedroom, a radical Islamist online persona and videos suggesting paramilitary training before his arrest last week for biting two FBI agents, federal prosecutors charged in court Thursday.

As a result, Emerson W. Begolly will remain in jail pending trial, U.S. District Judge Maurice B. Cohill decided, over the strenuous objections of a defense attorney who said his client was nonviolent. A magistrate judge's decision last week to ship him to a halfway house, which was stayed during its appeal, was shelved.

Mr. Begolly "has a strong desire to kill non-Muslims and many other groups of people," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Soo C. Song. "He was preparing, and he was getting closer and closer to bringing his words and aspirations to fruition."

PG VIDEO: RAW VIDEO -- FBI EVIDENCE

Federal public defense lawyer Marketa Sims, representing Mr. Begolly, countered that his actions before agents startled him -- legally owning guns, posting unpopular views online -- were constitutionally protected. "They had no probable cause to believe that he committed any crime."

Mr. Begolly was arrested after two FBI agents approached him Jan. 4 at a New Bethlehem Burger King, seeking to talk to him even as other agents executed search warrants on his father's Mayport farmhouse and his mother's Natrona Heights home. The parents are divorced.

He is accused of reaching for a Makarov pistol, for which he had no concealed carry permit, and then biting the agents as they wrestled him into handcuffs. He is charged with assault upon an officer of the United States and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime.

An initial detention hearing last week relied on thirdhand testimony and poems and chants attributed to Mr. Begolly. On Thursday, prosecutors presented new evidence, gained from the execution of still-sealed search warrants obtained in another federal court district.

Mr. Begolly's bedroom contained 14 firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition, a fake hand grenade, a military helmet and a gas mask, said FBI Special Agent Thomas W. Ferguson III. Three of the firearms, including one found under his pillow, were AK-47-type rifles, he said. Rifle rounds were found in the bedroom he sometimes used in his mother's home.

Mr. Ferguson attributed to Mr. Begolly online communications from a person using the screen name Abu Nancy. Some appeared on what he called "a radical jihadi website" and others were from online chats, all from last year, the agent said.

One communication detailed how an old Buick could be turned into a car bomb using gasoline and tanks -- apparently of propane -- that could be ignited with a gunshot.

Another talked of "being a suicide martyr on your school," or taking school kids as hostages and demanding the freedom of Muslim prisoners.

"Clearly, not just military, but also civilian targets can be used," Mr. Ferguson read from a transcript of the communications. "How can [Western forces] destroy our weddings and not expect to pay?"

Other communications suggested that the writer needed more training before becoming a martyr, and would get it in the "mountains."

Other online communications dealt with how to handle an arrest attempt. "I would make Waco look like a tea party," one posting read by Mr. Ferguson said, and another said anyone faced with arrest should hurt the agent in any way possible, in a bid to become a martyr.

Ms. Song showed videos that she said were on the laptop in which a person Mr. Ferguson identified as Mr. Begolly fired a rifle at a pumpkin, among other targets.

A voice identified as that of Shawn Begolly, the defendant's father, can be heard on some of the videos. In one, the voice said, "Now you wounded him now" in apparent reference to a direct hit on the pumpkin.

Ms. Sims said he was accused of no violence "other then against a pumpkin" before the FBI "snuck up on him" as he sat in his mother's car in a Burger King parking lot. She said he suffers from Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that affects social ability.

What the government characterized as terrorist training, including the pumpkin shooting, was "common tomfoolery up there" in northern Armstrong County, Ms. Sims said. She questioned whether the online communications were really authored by Mr. Begolly.

She said he was being held in an Allegheny County Jail psychiatric ward and didn't even have a bed in his cell. "The fact that he says things on the Internet that some people don't agree with doesn't mean you put him in a nuthouse," she said.

Judge Cohill said there was enough evidence against Mr. Begolly, and enough concern with his "mental condition," to hold him in jail.

After the hearing, Shawn Begolly asked Ms. Sims why he still wasn't allowed to visit his son in jail. He had no comment about the hearing.


Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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