Lawyer compares client in terror case to Trump

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — The lawyer for an American Muslim arrested by the FBI’s counterterrorism squad after allegedly buying illegal explosives said Thursday his client is politically incorrect, and may be offensive, but so is Donald Trump.

“And he’s running for president,” defense lawyer David Tholen said during a failed bid to get client Sebastian Gregerson, aka Abdurrahman Bin Mikaayl, freed on bond.

The comparison came three days after the 29-year-old Detroit man was arrested while buying illegal grenades from an undercover federal agent, according to the FBI. The purchase capped a 16-month investigation during which Gregerson amassed an arsenal of weapons — including several firearms, hundreds of rounds of AK-47 ammunition and tactical gear — and talked about carrying out an unspecified attack.

During the bond hearing Thursday in federal court, the government never mentioned terrorism and never detailed why Gregerson amassed the arsenal. But Gregerson’s lawyer repeatedly referenced a sealed court filing that “goes way beyond” a criminal complaint alleging Gregerson possessed a destructive device and received explosive materials.

This government exhibit is a picture of the illegal claymore mine that Detroit resident Sebastian Gregerson, aka Abdurrahman Bin Mikaayl, allegedly inquired about purchasing from an undercover FBI counterterrorism agent. It is exhibit 1 in a federal case against the American Muslim man who was arrested when agents raided his house in Detroit on Sunday, July 31, 2016 confiscating a number of guns legally purchased guns and ammunition.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cathleen Corken labeled Gregerson a dangerous man who hoarded weapons, bought illegal high-grade explosives and expressed interest in buying a mine — items that are solely designed to kill and maim.

“These are preparations for some violent acts,” Corken told U.S. Magistrate Judge Mona Majzoub.

Gregerson’s lawyer labeled him a survivalist, a gun enthusiast and avid hunter.

“The government is overstating its case,” Tholen told the judge.

The magistrate judge, referencing the alleged grenade purchase and arsenal of weapons, determined Gregerson was a danger to the community.

“What does one do with these items? What does one do with a grenade?” Majzoub said. “Why does anybody want to purchase a Claymore mine, which is only used to cause death and destruction?”

Gregerson sat quietly throughout the hearing in handcuffs and ankle chains, his long brown hair pulled into a tight ponytail. At one point, he arched his eyebrows and smiled at his wife and father, who sat in the courtroom gallery. At another point, he watched a courtroom artist sketch his likeness.

Gregerson’s lawyer pushed for bond, arguing his client was not a danger, considering the government seized the weapons and five fragmentation grenades Sunday.

All of the weapons were bought legally by Gregerson, a member of the National Rifle Association, Tholen said.

He described Gregerson as a father of twin 4-year-old sons, a criminal justice major at Henry Ford Community College and retail employee. Gregerson converted to Islam after high school

The prosecutor mentioned Gregerson’s low-paying job while trying to cast doubt on how he could afford to stockpile expensive weapons, including tactical knives, 700 rounds of AK-47 ammunition, machetes and a ballistics vest with military-grade plates.

“He works at Target yet spends a tremendous amount of money” on weapons, Corken told the magistrate judge.

She countered the claim that Gregerson is an avid hunter, noting he never had a hunting license. Corken said handcuffs and commercial-grade road spikes seized during a search of the man’s home are “hardly consistent with hunting.”

The Detroit News on Tuesday in an exclusive report disclosed a 16-month undercover investigation that started after a tipster told the FBI that Gregerson had grenades and bazookas.

The criminal case emerged amid heightened concern about terror-related attacks and fatal shootings of law enforcement officers, including five officers killed during an attack last month in Dallas. One was a former Wayne County sheriff’s deputy.

Gregerson faces up to 10 years in federal prison if convicted of unregistered possession of a destructive device and unlicensed receipt of explosive materials.

A Facebook account belonging to a user with the same name, and a hometown of Dearborn, includes an image of a man riding a horse and carrying an Islamic State flag.

The Facebook account also includes a meme that mentions shooting sprees.

Federal court records detail a prolonged FBI investigation that culminated Sunday with Gregerson allegedly buying high explosives from an undercover agent.

Gregerson made several firearms purchases in recent months while under FBI surveillance, according to the complaint.

In recent months, Gregerson has had several recorded conversations with an undercover agent during which he allegedly talked about weapons, specifically grenades and grenade launchers, according to court records.

Gregerson said he possessed a legal grenade launcher and described tactics he would use to commit an attack on a building with the grenades, according to the FBI.

Gregerson also talked about how he could make homegrown high-explosive grenades, which are illegal, using hollow shells.

“They’re highly illegal, it’s a destructive device,” Gregerson told the undercover agent, according to court records. “And if you built your own you would have to register them as destructive devices before you built them.”

On June 21, court records indicate Gregerson talked about using code words to refer to high-explosive grenades. He also discussed obtaining a larger grenade launcher that is classified as a destructive device under federal law and must be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to the complaint.

Gregerson indicated he wanted to buy rounds for the grenade launcher.

The undercover agent told Gregerson he had a contact who worked in a gun shop on a military base who might be able to supply the grenade launcher.

Gregerson told the undercover agent he wanted to buy smoke grenades, fragmentation grenades and an anti-personnel claymore mine that contains C4 explosive and hundreds of steel balls that rapidly shoot outwards upon detonation, court records show.

Gregerson called the mines “a magical piece of equipment,” according to court records.

Gregerson invited the agent to his home July 15 and displayed part of his arsenal, including the smaller grenade launcher, grenades, a loaded AK-47 rifle, a machete, ammunition and a ballistics vest with military-grade plates.

The conversations intensified July 27.

The agent told Gregerson a shipment of smoke and fragmentary grenades would be available Sunday, according to court records.

“In this same conversation, Gregerson discussed with (the undercover agent) his plans for a full tactical response to law enforcement if they came for him, including the use of grenades,” according to court records.

Gregerson and the undercover agent met Sunday at a gas station in Monroe, 39 miles southwest of Detroit, according to the FBI.

Gregerson arrived with a handgun that he planned on trading for five fragmentation grenades, court records show.

The undercover agent took the gun and gave the grenades to Gregerson. The grenades contained several ounces of TNT and another explosive similar to the type used by underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in the failed Christmas Day 2009 terror attack aboard a Detroit-bound airliner.

rsnell@detnews.com

(313) 222-2486