Tennessee man accused of being ‘pro-ISIS’ media representative for terrorists

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee –  A judge withheld an immediate ruling Monday on the fate of a 31-year-old man accused of serving as an interpreter and media representative for ISIS.

Benjamin Alan Carpenter, who also uses the name Abu Hamza, was arrested last week on a federal charge of attempting to provide material support and resources to the terror group. He is from Knoxville. 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra Poplin said she needed to review all the material from the prosecutor and Carpenter’s attorney before making a decision on whether he will remain behind bars pending a June trial. Her decision will likely come in a matter of days.

Background: Judge deciding whether to free Knox man accused of helping ISIS recruit fighters

Carpenter was indicted after federal authorities say he provided an English-language translation of an ISIS video to an FBI agent posing as a terrorist. He faces a 20-year prison term if convicted.

Carpenter has been on the FBI’s watch list since at least 2015 and is on the terrorist no-fly list, testimony showed .Monday’s hearing also revealed he has not traveled outside the U.S. to meet with ISIS members.

Debbie Poplin, court clerk for U.S. District Court and newly nominated U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge, attends during the retirement celebration for U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley, Jr. at the US District Court in Knoxville, Tennessee on Friday, February 9, 2018. Shirley served as magistrate judge in Knoxville for over 16 years. (Photo: Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel)

Assistant Federal Defender Benjamin Sharp said Monday that Carpenter was part nerd, part loser, but hardly a danger in need of pretrial detention.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Casey Arrowood described Carpenter as an ISIS enthusiast who has grown increasingly radicalized and popular among terror leaders hoping to recruit American Muslims.

Arrowood said Carpenter founded a media firm — Ahlut-Tawhid Publications — that produces videos and newsletters touting terrorist causes, treating terror leaders as celebrities and beheadings as justice. Arrowood said Carpenter, fluent in Arabic, provides translation services and “regularly communicated” with ISIS leaders and recruiters, often using an encrypted messaging service to avoid detection. He said Carpenter had recently expressed an interest in traveling overseas to meet them.

“We’ve known about him five years,” Arrowood said. “He’s evolved over time.”

Carpenter spends most days on his computer in his bedroom at his mother’s home, where’s he lived now for more than two years, Sharp said.

Sharp said the FBI has been investigating Carpenter’s pro-ISIS media company since at least 2015 — when the agency raided a Virginia home where Carpenter had lived with his girlfriend before they broke up.

“It feels disingenuous to argue he’s a threat today but not those other times,” Sharp told Poplin.

Carpenter’s mother has promised to shut down her internet, toss out her cell phone and keep a constant eye on her son if Poplin will let him remain free, testimony showed. Arrowood countered that Carpenter had been engaging in Internet chats with ISIS terrorists in his mother’s home and, at least once, on her computer.

“He’s not married,” Arrowood said. “He has no children. (Carpenter) has a plan to flee.”

Follow Jamie Satterfield on Twitter at @jamiescoop.

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