PITTSBURGH – A man charged with biting two FBI agents who struggled to keep him from grabbing a loaded 9 mm pistol in his jacket was ordered jailed until trial after a federal judge was told he communicated online with at least two people accused of terror-related crimes.
Emerson Begolly was ordered detained Thursday after a Pittsburgh FBI agent testified he had unspecified contact with a man who has pleaded guilty to threatening the creators of the animated "South Park" TV show for perceived insults to the prophet Muhammad and with a woman who's accused of using the screen name Jihad Jane and conspiring to kill a Swedish cartoonist who had offended Muslims.
FBI agent Thomas Ferguson III didn't suggest Begolly aided Zachary Chesser, of Bristow, Va., or Colleen LaRose, of Pennsburg. Nor did he suggest Chesser or LaRose knew about Internet postings attributed to Begolly about making Columbine-style attacks on schools or taking hostages at schools to leverage the release of Muslim prisoners.
Rather, Assistant U.S. Attorney Soo Song suggested Begolly's links to other terror defendants show his online pro-terror comments and weapons training videos were more than idle musings.
Begolly, 21, was moving "closer and closer to bringing his aspirations and words to fruition," Song argued.
For all their violence, however, Begolly's postings weren't criminal and FBI agents had no reason to arrest Begolly before they approached him sitting alone in his mother's car in a fast-food restaurant's parking lot in New Bethlehem on Jan. 4, Ferguson acknowledged.
The FBI, apparently alarmed by his Internet postings and other actions, had still-sealed search warrants for the homes of Begolly's divorced parents, about 60 miles apart in western Pennsylvania.
Begolly's mother worked with the FBI to get him out of his father's residence in Mayport, Clarion County, by telling Begolly his grandmother was dying so he'd agree to go back to her home in Natrona Heights. As part of the ruse, Begolly's mother stopped at the restaurant and went inside to get a drink.
That's when two agents approached the car and asked to speak with Begolly, who, authorities say, screamed and reached for his weapon and bit the agents, prompting the charges he now faces.
Begolly's public defender argued he reacted that way because he has a form of autism.
At a hearing last week, a different agent testified the FBI feared an armed confrontation if it tried to search for Begolly's computers and weapons, which is why it resorted to the dying-grandmother ruse.
Public defender Marketa Sims said she'll fight Thursday's ruling in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. She said it's wrong to jail Begolly until trial — or to try to have him committed to a mental institution, as agents unsuccessfully did the day of his arrest — based on Internet activity even the FBI acknowledges isn't criminal.
"That's not America," Sims argued to U.S. District Senior Judge Maurice Cohill Jr. "The fact that he says things on the Internet that you don't agree with, you don't put him in a nut house."
Song insisted that prosecutors weren't pushing to jail Begolly for his thoughts, but because his actions showed he planned to act on them.
Sims wanted Begolly released to his father, Shawn Begolly, who was in the court but declined to comment.
But Song noted Shawn Begolly had recorded Internet videos of his son shooting an AK-47 rifle at a pumpkin, after which the father could be heard saying, "You wounded him now!"
"He said, 'You wounded him now!' He didn't say, 'You hit the pumpkin, son!" Song argued, noting Begolly was wearing a camouflage jacket with Islamic slogans on shoulder patches and shouting "Allahu akbar," a slogan shouted by attacking terrorists that means "God is great!"
Song said 14 weapons taken from Begolly's room in his father's house included three AK-47-style assault rifles, one kept loaded under his pillow. Agents also said they found a Hamas flag with an Arabic message that means, "It was not you who killed them, it was God."
Ferguson read pages of chat messages he said Begolly posted under the screen name Abu Nancy about filling station wagons with propane tanks that could be exploded on a target and other comments praising the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Ferguson said Begolly explained in other posts that he used the screen name, meaning "father of Nancy," because he acknowledged having an "imaginary daughter named Nancy."
Ferguson said Begolly's focus could be summed up in one online chat message: "Bro, when I wake up in the morning the first thing I think about is killing. I think about killing all the time."
Chesser, 20, pleaded guilty in October to trying to go to Somalia to join the al-Shabab terror network. He's expected to receive a prison term of at least 20 years when he's sentenced next month.
LaRose has pleaded not guilty to charges of helping foreign terror suspects intent on starting a holy war. She's awaiting trial in federal court in Philadelphia.
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