Feds want up to 8 years for man who named Pittsburgh FBI agents in online threats

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Federal prosecutors say an accused Islamic extremist should go to prison for up to eight years for threatening Pittsburgh FBI agents who were investigating his radical tweets.

But his Texas lawyers say he never directly threatened anyone and should get no more than 41 months behind bars.

Khaled Miah, a 28-year-old Bangladesh native and former University of Pittsburgh student, is set to be sentenced in federal court next month.

A federal jury in December convicted him on counts of interstate threats and obstruction by deleting his Twitter accounts.

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Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jessica Smolar and Nicole Stockey said in sentencing papers filed this week that  Miah deserves heavy punishment, in part as a deterrent to anyone else who targets federal agents at a time when threats against the FBI are on the rise.

“Miah’s persistent threats, retaliation against the victims, and obstruction in this case warrant a severe sentence to punish Miah and to send a message to him and other like-minded individuals that criminal threats against law enforcement will result in severe consequences,” they said.

They asked for a term at the high end of a range between 78 to 97 months.

Defense attorneys Charles Swift and Catherine McDonald asked for 36 to 41 months, arguing that the government is overstating Mr. Miah’s intent.

“Mr. Miah was convicted of threatening the FBI on his Twitter account,” they said. “His threats were ambiguous, did not articulate a specific action to be taken, or a weapon to be used, or even a specific target.”

The case started in January 2019 when the FBI received a tip that someone on YouTube calling himself “Blitz Kreig” — a misspelling of Blitzkrieg — had posted threats against another YouTube user and alluded to a potential attack on the U.S.

The FBI tracked the account to Miah at Pitt and searched his Facebook and Twitter footprint, finding posts and tweets supporting ISIS and terrorist violence.

Pittsburgh man convicted of threatening FBI agents

Agent Nicholas Edquist and a task force officer, Mike Matta, tried twice to interview Miah in September 2020 to explain his tweets but said he was uncooperative.

Miah deleted his Twitter account and began searching online for pictures of Agent Edquist and his family. He sent Agent Edquist’s wedding photos to a buddy, prosecutors said, and then created a new Twitter account under another name and posted Agent Edquist’s wife’s photo, along with personal information and crude sexual comments about her and the agent.

In October 2020, a judge authorized a search of Miah’s house, the seizure of his devices and the placement of a GPS tracker on his car. A review of his online accounts revealed his interest in terrorism and violence against law officers.

Miah then created new Twitter accounts and began tweeting threats against various Pittsburgh agents by name, including details about their personal lives.

In December 2020, Miah created another account and tweeted FBI agents by name along with a reference to the 9/11 attacks, taunting that he would “choose the time when ‘the deed will be done'” and the “zero hour is approaching.” In one tweet, he posted the coordinates of FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Prosecutors Smolar and Stockey said the GPS tracker also placed Miah’s car in Mr. Edquist’s neighborhood on several occasions and in the vicinity of the Pittsburgh FBI office multiple times between November 2020 and January 2021, often late at night.

The FBI arrested Miah on Jan. 5, 2021, and seized his phone and iPad. Trial testimony showed he had used them to search for agents and their families as well as information about bombs, guns and terrorism. In some cases, he had saved photos of agents on his phone and altered them by putting red lines through their faces.

Prosecutors said Miah had “weaponized social media” for months in targeting the FBI agents, their families and even their pets.

“All of these issues, taken together, make Miah a very clear and present danger to the community,” they said. “There is nothing in Miah’s personal history that justifies, mitigates, or excuses his conduct, and the Court should reject any arguments to the contrary.”

Ms. Smolar and Ms. Stockey also argued that a tough sentence is necessary to dissuade others, particularly at at time when threats against law officers are increasing nationwide. The prosecutors made reference to Ricky Shiffer Jr., who last month attacked the FBI’s Cincinnati office with an assault rifle in the wake of the FBI’s search of Donald Trump’s Florida estate. Police killed him after a standoff.

“This is the very type of dangerous conduct that this verdict and this sentence can and should deter,” prosecutors said.

U.S. District Judge W. Scott Hardy will sentence Miah on Oct. 18.

First Published September 30, 2022, 2:53pm