Islamic State sympathizer pleads guilty in terrorism case

NEW YORK (AP) — An Albanian who became a U.S. citizen but kept an Islamic State flag in his apartment pleaded guilty to terrorism charges Wednesday.

Sajmir Alimehmeti, 24, of the Bronx, entered the plea in Manhattan federal court to an indictment alleging he provided material support to the group.

His trial had been scheduled to begin in May. He faces a potential penalty of up to 45 years in prison when he is sentenced at a proceeding scheduled for June 7.

Alimehmeti, a onetime plumbing assistant who had studied funeral services, was arrested in May 2016 on evidence assembled over eight months by two undercover New York City police officers and an undercover FBI employee posing as Islamic State group recruits.

Authorities said Alimehmeti began collecting weapons such as combat knives that could be used in a “lone-wolf” style terrorist attack.

Arresting agents reported recovering terrorist propaganda, the flag and images of jihadist fighters.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said Alimehmeti took steps to travel overseas to support the Islamic State group.

He said Alimehmeti also bought military-grade weapons and helped someone else get travel documents, equipment and encryption technology to fight with the group in Syria.

The case evolved after Alimehmeti twice was rejected trying to enter the United Kingdom after authorities saw his camouflage clothing and nunchakus at Manchester Airport in October 2014 and Islamic State flag images on his cellphone in December 2014 at Heathrow Airport.

According to court papers, Alimehmeti tried shortly before his arrest to provide advice and assistance to an undercover operative he thought was traveling from New York to Syria to train and fight with the Islamic State.

Authorities said Alimehmeti repeatedly expressed his desire to help the group, even claiming that music videos including one depicting its fighters decapitating prisoners kept him motivated while he exercised.

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