Attorney: FBI entrapped terror suspect

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit —A Detroit man accused of plotting to use grenades to kill people and wage violent jihad on behalf of the Islamic State was entrapped by the FBI, his lawyer said late Tuesday.

A four-count indictment against Sebastian Gregerson, aka Abdurrahman Bin Mikaayl, 30, should be dismissed, his lawyer argued.

An undercover FBI employee initially proposed having Gregerson buy illegal fragmentation grenades, oversaw the transaction and controlled the sale, defense lawyer David Tholen wrote in a court filing Tuesday.

Gregerson rebuffed initial attempts by an undercover FBI employee to buy illegal grenades but prosecutors say Gregerson ended up buying five fragmentation grenades before being arrested July 31 in Monroe.

“There would have been no offense but for the government’s involvement and participation in the grenade transaction,” Tholen wrote. “The explosive grenades were effectively dumped on his lap seconds before his arrest. As such the counts in the indictment should be dismissed as a matter of law.”

An FBI spokesman did not respond immediately to a request for comment Wednesday.

The request is the latest legal salvo in a multi-state counterterrorism investigation. The FBI says Gregerson is dangerous and backed by a group of like-minded supporters, including a radical Maryland imam.

Gregerson is being held at a federal prison in Milan pending a May 1 trial in federal court in Detroit. The Detroit man, who grew up near Ann Arbor and converted to Islam after high school, is charged with several felonies punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison, including receipt of explosive materials with intent to harm.

He is married, the father of 4-year-old twins and, until his arrest, worked retail at a Target store. His low-income and low-skill job raised questions about how Gregerson afforded to amass an armory that included grenades, AK-47s, handguns, rifles, a shotgun and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

However, accidentally unsealed federal court records obtained by The Detroit News, shows the FBI believes the Maryland imam, Suleiman Bengharsa, bankrolled the armory.

Bengharsa financed part of Gregerson’s weapons arsenal and FBI counterterrorism investigators believed the Maryland imam and the Detroit man were plotting violent jihad, according to the sealed documents.

Bengharsa has not been charged with a crime during the ongoing investigation. In an earlier, exclusive interview with The News, Bengharsa denied being an Islamic State supporter.

Gregerson was arrested following a 16-month investigation anchored by an undercover FBI employee. The employee secretly recorded conversations with Gregerson between April and July 2016.

The court filing Tuesday chronicles an escalating series of secretly recorded conversations between Gregerson and the FBI employee. The conversations show Gregerson was not interested in buying illegal grenades despite the FBI employee’s persistence.

The recordings show Gregerson was not predisposed to buying illegal grenades — an essential element in proving entrapment, the defense lawyer said.

During one meeting, the undercover FBI employee said he could steal military rounds from a friend who works at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, according to the defense filing.

“So I know a guy. I’ve got a guy and he’s Muslim, he could be a better Muslim but he’s (Muslim),” the undercover FBI employee said during the recorded conversation.

When the FBI employee suggested he could obtain illegal explosives, Gregerson said he was interested in M18 smoke grenades, according to the filing.

“Like I said though, you know, start with some, some. . . 18s,” Gregerson said.

“This is significant because 18s are smoke grenades which are not explosives and would be legal to purchase,” Tholen wrote in the court filing.

The FBI and federal prosecutors point to other comments Gregerson made to the FBI employee and social media postings as evidence he supported the Islamic State and was plotting an attack.

The FBI drew the conclusion after obtaining a search warrant in 2015 for Gregerson’s Facebook account. Gregerson only had eight Facebook friends at the time, including the imam.

“Christians are not believers they are kafirun (infidels) and will enter hellfire,” Gregerson wrote in an August 2014 post on Facebook.

In February 2015, Gregerson allegedly wrote on Facebook: “Ignorant kuffar (infidels) will target those who cannot defend themselves. If they see strength they will run like the cowards they are...”

Gregerson also was interested in Ahmad Jibril, a Dearborn cleric cited as an inspirational leader for Syrian militants, according to court records.

Gregerson told the undercover FBI employee he wanted to buy smoke grenades, fragmentation grenades and an anti-personnel 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.

During one recorded conversation, Gregerson fantasized about killing local Muslim religious leaders and a park ranger, prosecutors allege.

In May, Gregerson and the undercover agent met at an area restaurant. A group of local Muslim religious leaders entered the restaurant.

“Gregerson recognized the men. He then proceeded to talk with (the agent) about committing violent acts against them. He described the scenario ‘like shooting fish in a barrel,’ ” according to a court filing.

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