Hawaii-based soldier pleads guilty to trying to help Islamic State

HONOLULU — A soldier based in Hawaii pleaded guilty Wednesday to trying to help the Islamic State group— admitting he provided secret military information, a drone meant to track U.S. troops and other support to undercover agents he believed were members of the terrorist organization.

Sgt. 1st Class Ikaika Kang, 35, handcuffed and wearing a beige prison jumpsuit, spoke in a clear voice when he told a U.S. magistrate judge he’s guilty of all four counts against him.

“Your honor, I provided unclassified, classified documents to the Islamic State,” Kang said, adding that he also provided the drone.

He agreed when Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson described other support he provided to undercover agents Kang believed were part of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS.

By at least early 2016, Kang became sympathetic to the group, Sorenson said. The FBI gathered information from sources he knew, worked with or lived with when it began an investigation in August 2016, Sorenson said.

Kang provided voluminous, digital documents that included sensitive information including the U.S. military’s weapons file, details about a sensitive mobile airspace management system, various military manuals and documents containing personal information about U.S. service members, Sorenson said.

Trained as an air traffic controller with a secret security clearance, Kang also provided documents including call signs, mission procedures and radio frequencies, “all of which would have been helpful to ISIS,” Sorenson said.

At one of the meetings with agents Kang believed were part of the Islamic State, he swore loyalty to the group in Arabic and English and kissed an Islamic State flag given to him by a purported ISIS sheikh, Sorenson said.

He then said he wanted to get his rifle and fight — “just go to downtown Honolulu and Waikiki strip and start shooting,” prosecutors said in a news release announcing the plea.

After that, FBI agents arrested him.

“He was clearly enticed. But the law of entrapment is quite complex and often very difficult for the defense to prove,” Kang’s defense attorney, Birney Bervar, said after the hearing.

In exchange for Kang’s guilty plea, prosecutors said they won’t charge him with additional crimes, including violations of the espionage act, other terrorism-related laws and federal firearms statutes.

Kang swore to defend the United States as a member of the military, but he betrayed his country, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said.

He was also trained as an Army combat instructor and recorded training videos he intended for Islamic State group members in the Middle East to use, Sorenson said.

A confidential informant told agents Kang was obsessed with videos depicting terrorism beheadings, suicide bombings and other violence, and he watched them in his bedroom for hours daily.

Kang told the informant that if he became an Islamic State member, he would be a suicide bomber and attack Schofield Barracks, a sprawling Army base outside Honolulu, according to an affidavit filed in the case.

Kang watched the videos for four to five hours each weekday and more on the weekends, the informant told agents in 2016. The informant “remembered feeling sick to his stomach, while Kang laughed and insulted the victims,” the affidavit said.

Kang began researching Islam in 2014, couldn’t wait to move to the Middle East to “join the cause” and was “only in the military for a paycheck,” the informant said.

The U.S. government asked a judge to allow a tracking device to be placed on Kang’s car in October 2016 and received several extensions. Agents said in their applications for a tracking device that they needed to monitor him continuously because they feared he would carry out an attack.

Officials with the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade told the FBI they were concerned about their ability to monitor Kang, noting that he was to return from leave on May 25, 2017 — the same day as a change-of-command ceremony, the affidavit said.

Brigade personnel feared the large gathering “represented a target of opportunity for Kang should he want to harm members of the unit.”

Kang is still in the Army, but his duty status is confined, said Lt. Col. Curt Kellogg, with the 25th Infantry Division. Because Kang is in civilian confinement, the Army isn’t paying him, Kellogg said.

He has been held without bail since his arrest.

Kang is expected to receive a 25 years in prison as part of a plea agreement when he is sentenced Dec. 10.

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