Man pleads guilty in Twitter threat case

Updated: 8:20 p.m. | Posted: 2:46 p.m.

A 20-year-old Twin Cities man says he was trying to blow off steam when he fired off tweets threatening the U.S. Attorney General after his friends were arrested on charges of trying to enlist with the terror group ISIS.

"I was frustrated and trying to get my anger out," Mahamed Abukar Said said at his plea hearing Friday. "It's not the smartest way to do it."

Said admitted he willfully tweeted that he would "whack," "kill" and "massacre" the person responsible for charging the alleged ISIS recruits in Minnesota. He pleaded guilty Friday to a misdemeanor charge.

His lawyer, Chris Madel, said his client was ready to own his actions and move on. "Mahamed's an extremely smart kid [who] did some extremely dumb things," Madel said in an interview after the hearing. "When you do that, there's consequences for it. He understands that, but he's really just doing his best to turn his life around."

Madel added that as a teenager, he also made poor decisions, but the difference with Said is he did it on social media.

Said clarified in court Friday that his tweets were directed at U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch—although Lynch was serving as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York and days away from assuming her current role when Said entered the tweets. Prosecutors initially alleged Said was issuing threats referring to Minnesota's U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger.

Said has been in custody since April. He was arrested just days after six young Twin Cities men — five of whom were his friends — were arrested on charges of trying to enlist with ISIS in Syria. Prosecutors initially charged Said with two felony counts, but he pled Friday to a misdemeanor charge of impeding and intimidating a U.S. government employee who was engaged in official duties.

He faces up to a year in prison and will be sentenced Nov. 23.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol expressed an openness to placing Said in a halfway house pending sentencing. Said is currently without a home because he could not continue to pay his rent while he was incarcerated and unable to work, his lawyer said.

Said testified that was born in Ethiopia and came to the United States when he was about 1 year old. A 2013 graduate of Como Park High School in St. Paul, he was attending St. Paul College before his arrest. Said told the judge his plan is to receive his associate of arts degree, continue to college and law school and become an attorney.

Federal prosecutors from the Western District of Wisconsin, who took over the case because of a possible conflict of interest from Luger's office, said Said might be a flight risk. They said Said had failed to appear in court for previous cases eight times. He has a criminal history, including theft, and testified he has received treatment for chemical dependency.

"He's got a long life ahead of him, and our hope is he's going to turn it around and make it better," Madel said.

Said's mother lives in Ethiopia, and no family members came to attend his plea hearing.

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