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Little is known about Hoxha’s personal background. A search for his online activity finds a defunct Twitter account bearing his name, which interacted with other ISIS supporters, as well as detractors. In October 2014, for example, the account engaged in conversation with the State Department’s “Think Again Turn Away” account, which at the time was trying to counter ISIS messaging on the platform. He was actually not the first American jihadi to do so. Around the same time, a 17-year-old, Ali Amin, was also trolling the State Department Twitter account. A short time later, Amin was arrested and ultimately sentenced to 11 years for encouraging his high-school friend to join the Islamic State.
Hoxha’s presence elsewhere online also reveals links to how he connected with his future co-conspirators. An account on the gaming website Steam bearing the username “Hohxa77” lists his favorite titles, including Splinter Cell, Mortal Kombat, and Left 4 Dead. Indeed, this shared interest in video games may have been one of the first things that brought Hoxha together with David Wright, who was listed as a friend on his Steam account under the name “d.sharifwright.”
During Wright’s trial, prosecutors argued that he used several video games, including Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and other titles to “virtually prepare” for jihad. His defense attorneys, however, painted Wright, who weighed more than 400 pounds at the time of the conspiracy, as a “fat, failed loser” who used video games as a substitute for real-life violent activity, according to the trial transcript. Unfortunately, one can be both a gamer who veers toward violence and weigh in at 400 pounds of loneliness and isolation. The Islamic State’s 2015 instructional manual for its Western supporters, “How to Survive in the West,” includes references to video games as a method of training to join the group. More importantly, it may have brought together Wright and Hoxha, who, unlike Wright, successfully followed through on his intentions to support ISIS using violence.
At the trial, investigators claimed that Wright and Hoxha’s conspiracy began in November 2014, although the two may have virtually met one another as early as 2010. The two most revealing elements of Wright and Hoxha’s online interactions are their use of Skype and the social-networking site Paltalk. According to court records, at the time, Wright (under the alias Umar Mukhtar Abdul-Qadir) and Hoxha were both members of chatrooms on Paltalk called “The Solution for Humanity” and “Road to Jannah.”
During Wright’s interrogation, which was recounted at trial in testimony by a local police officer, he claimed that Hoxha reached out to him via Paltalk and asked him if he was interested in ISIS. Wright told the officer that he responded three weeks later after conducting research, telling Hoxha that he believed that the Islamic State’s mission was legitimate and necessary. From this point on, Hoxha and Wright were in frequent contact via Paltalk and Skype’s instant-messenger service, sharing videos, issues of the Islamic State’s official magazine, Dabiq, and news articles about the group and its activities.