This week, a 26-year-old Brooklyn woman named Sinmyah Amera Ceasar will find out the length of her prison sentence, learning whether she’ll be credited for the two years she’s already spent in a federal penitentiary, whether she’ll be released to a rehabilitation program, or whether she’ll be locked up for the next several decades.
Ceasar has already pleaded guilty to providing material support to the Islamic State (ISIS), but she is also facing charges of obstruction of justice, for allegedly continuing to contact other ISIS supporters and their associates while she was out on bail. And, weirdly, she has been accused of using the name “Umm Nutella” during her communications with the extremists.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Ceasar was radicalized through online propaganda three years ago, and soon started logging on to social media to “[advocate] violent jihad Facebook posts,” and to reach out to ISIS and Taliban supporters, offering to connect them with the group’s recruiters and even discussing potential attacks in the United States.
She was a “committed recruiter and self described 'assistant' to the terrorist group, connecting ISIS supporters in the United States to ISIS facilitators and operatives abroad," federal prosecutors wrote in a memo obtained by NBC News. "The defendant also expressed her own desire to travel to ISIS-controlled territory and join the group and die as a martyr."
She was taken into custody at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport when she tried to leave the U.S. in November 2016, and was remanded to a Manhattan detention center. She was released on bail in April 2018, and was soon back online chatting with her ISIS besties, despite being banned from using social media. She also allegedly deleted a thousand Facebook messages that included her written exchanges with other extremist supporters. “I’m umm nutella,” she wrote in one message. “I’m staying on down low. Not going to go to prison for nobody anymore.”
Prosecutors allege that she used the name Umm Nutella before her 2016 arrest, and continued to refer to herself as the chocolate-hazelnut spread after her release from prison. “[Ceasar] repeatedly—at least four times throughout the interview—denied that she ever identified herself to anyone as ‘Umm Nutella’ while on presentence release,” state court documents cited by the Daily Beast. “Facebook records show that the defendant identified herself in writing as ‘Umm Nutella’ to at least two individuals—including one she has previously identified to the FBI as a jihadist supporter.”
Although Ceasar has not explained why she chose that particular pseudonym, ISIS militants have a well-documented love of Nutella, even sharing Nutella-themed memes on social media. In 2014, Phillip Smyth, a University of Maryland researcher who has studied Shia Islamist militarism, told the Wall Street Journal that ISIS plans its memery in advance before posting them “as a deliberate strategy to make the Islamic State seem more friendly and familiar to Westerners.”
But the Nutella-themed Instagrams might have an even simpler meaning: just reassuring potential recruits that yes, even extremists can get their Ferrero on. “Though some of their food photography is propaganda, the goal is not to make them seem ‘friendly and familiar,’ but rather to reassure other jihadi gourmets that the Islamic State has an abundance of quality snacks,” VICE previously wrote. “Or as one fighter put it: ‘I'm gonna keep sharing pics of food until you literally join us.’”
Umm Nutella, meanwhile, is facing between 30 years and life in prison.