A Commack man who federal prosecutors said attempted to travel to Syria to wage "violent jihad" and told investigators that he was "prepared to strap a bomb on and sacrifice himself" pleaded guilty Friday to a single terrorism count.
Elvis Redzepagic, 30, pleaded guilty during a virtual proceeding in U.S. District Court in Central Islip to attempting to provide material support a foreign terrorist organization.
"I plead guilty," Redzepagic said, adding: "I traveled to Turkey and attempted to enter through the Syrian border with the purpose of joining [Jabhat] al-Nusra Front at around June, August 2015."
Prosecutors said Redzepagic traveled to Turkey in July 2015 and to Jordan in 2016 in unsuccessful attempts to enter Syria in order to join either ISIS — also known as the Islamic State — or an al-Qaida affiliate called Jabhat al-Nusra.
Redzepagic faces up to 20 years in prison, supervised release for life and a $250,000 fine under federal sentencing guidelines, but could receive a lighter sentence. Federal prosecutor Artie McConnell said Friday that the government "has not come to a decision on what to recommend" regarding Redzepagic's prison sentence.
Redzepagic's plea agreement outlines that if the judge sentences him to 168 months or less, he agrees not to file an appeal or challenge his conviction. No sentencing date was available Friday.
Acting U.S. Attorney Mark Lesko said in a statement: "This office is committed to preventing the spread of terrorism by stopping individuals like the defendant in their tracks and prosecuting them before they are able to harm the United States and its allies."
McConnell said in court Friday that prosecutors were prepared to present at trial evidence of Redzepagic's conduct, including statements from his social media indicating "his intent to join a terrorist organization" as well as travel records.
According to prosecutors, he told investigators he was "prepared to strap a bomb on and sacrifice himself," according to a complaint filed when Redzepagic was arrested in March 2017.
At that time, Redzepagic’s attorney issued a statement saying that her client was cooperating with authorities and hoped "to show the Court and the government that Mr. Redzepagic needs treatment and care, not imprisonment."
Later his attorneys said their client "went astray because of mental illness and drug use."
Redzepagic made reference to his troubles on Friday, when he answered "yes" when U.S. Magistrate A. Kathleen Tomlinson's asked whether he had been hospitalized and treated for addiction. He added that he couldn't recall when it occurred, but it was prior to 2017.
Before his arrest, according to federal prosecutors, Redzepagic had been questioned by FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force agents after his family called Suffolk 911 twice asking police to remove him from their home. Redzepagic then had threatened to cut off his mother’s head and attempted to use a knife to cut off his tattoos, federal prosecutors said.
Federal prosecutors said Redzepagic once told authorities, "I’m going to leave this country and I’m going to come back with an Army — Islam is coming."