The U.S. Army sergeant being held on terrorism charges in Hawaii suffers from mental illness that the FBI exploited during an undercover operation to arrest him, alleges the man’s lawyer.
The FBI arrested Sgt. 1st Class Ikaika Kang, an active-duty U.S. soldier, on July 8, the same day he allegedly pledged allegiance to ISIS and said he wanted to “kill a bunch of people.”
But Kang’s lawyer suggested the yearlong investigation that included multiple FBI agents posing as ISIS supporters could have constituted entrapment.
“It looks to me like they’ve exploited his mental illness and thrown gasoline on the fire of his mental illness to get him to commit a crime that they could arrest him for,” defense lawyer Birney Bervar said in remarks to reporters after his client was ordered to remain in jail without bond.
When asked if he was suggesting a case of entrapment, Bervar replied, “It sounds pretty close to that, doesn’t it?”
A representative for the FBI declined to comment further on the case, saying that doing so could jeopardize the prosecution.
“Any other details are going to have go come out in another forum,” said special agent, Arnold Laanui.
Laanui said the affidavit that describes the allegations against Kang and how he was investigated is “just an opening salvo.”
When asked if the circumstances of the sting operation, which included several undercover agents posing as ISIS supporters, may have tipped Kang toward the actions and attitudes recorded in the affidavit, Laanui said the fuller picture would emerge during trial.
Such cases were complex, he said, and the FBI worked diligently to preserve constitutional rights.
The 34-year-old made an initial appearance Monday, July 10, in federal court and the FBI filed an affidavit outlining the evidence against him.
The affidavit describes a series of interactions Kang had with undercover agents.
“Kang attempted to provide material support to ISIS by providing both classified military documents, and other sensitive but unclassified military documents, to persons he believed would pass the documents to ISIS,” read the affidavit signed by Special Agent Jimmy Chen.
“KANG did so with the intention that the documents would assist ISIS, including with fighting and military tactics,” it continues.
After a brief hearing on Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth Mansfield in Honolulu ruled Kang posed a flight risk and a danger to the public if released.
Bervar, who did not object to his client’s incarceration, said after the ruling he told his client, “You’re going to stay in for now, and we’re going to get you evaluated and see what’s going on.”
Bervar said he believed Kang suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health issues that have gone undiagnosed.
Bervar has suggested they could be a result of Kang’s deployments. He was deployed to Iraq from March 2010 to February 2011 and Afghanistan from July 2013 to April 2014.
Kang enlisted in the Army just months after the Sept. 11 attacks and told undercover agents he initially thought ISIS and al-Qaeda were “blood thirsty,” “baby eating” killers. Later, however, he told them he came to believe they were simply oppressed.
Kang, who was a trained air traffic controller based at Hawaii’s Wheeler Army Airfield, had his military clearance revoked in 2012 after he made pro-ISIS comments and threatened to hurt or kill fellow service members.
That clearance was reinstated after he complied with requirements set out by a subsequent investigation.
The Army, which helped the FBI in its investigation, believed Kang had started becoming radicalized in 2016 and asked the FBI to investigate.
Kang soon became the target of what the FBI described in its affidavit as an elaborate sting operation employing several undercover agents and other “confidential human sources” who posed as ISIS operatives and sympathizers.