A federal indictment accuses a Kenyan national of getting pilot training and researching how to conduct a 9/11-type of attack on the United States at the direction of the Muslim terrorist group al-Shabaab.
The plot was halted when the Kenyan, Cholo Abdi Abdullah, was arrested, the Department of Justice said.
He was charged with six counts of terrorism-related offenses, including conspiring to hijack an aircraft to conduct a 9/11-style attack.
Abdullah was arrested in July 2019 in the Philippines on local charges. He moved into the custody of U.S. law enforcement just this month for prosecution, the DOJ said Wednesday.
He is to appear before Magistrate Judge Robert W. Lehrburger in Manhattan federal court. The case is assigned to United States District Judge Analisa Torres.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said the case “reminds us of the deadly threat that radical Islamic terrorists continue to pose to our nation.”
“And it also highlights our commitment to pursue and hold accountable anybody who seeks to harm our country and our citizens,” he said. “No matter where terrorists who plan to target Americans may be located, we will seek to identify them and bring them to justice,” said “We owe a debt of gratitude to the detectives, agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this defendant’s arrest.”
The FBI’s Jill Sanborn said the case reveals foreign terror groups such as al-Shabaab still are “determined to plot, plan, and conspire to commit terrorist acts across the globe against the United States, our interests and our foreign partners.”
“Let there be no doubt that the FBI and our law enforcement colleagues, and in this case specifically those in the Philippines and Kenya, will not stop in our mission to hold terrorists accountable for their actions. The charges announced today against Cholo Abdi Abdullah eerily draws parallels to the heinous attacks on this country on September 11, 2001.”
Audren Strauss, acting Manhattan U.S. attorney, said the case alleges Abdullah was part of a terror plan organization by senior al-Shabaab leaders to have him get pilot training so he could hijack a commercial aircraft and crash it into a building in the U.S.
The suspect received a pilot’s license overseas but was studying “how to hijack an aircraft for the purpose of causing a mass-casualty incident,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr.
The DOJ explained al-Shabaab wants to kill Americans at home and abroad, and has “sworn allegiance to al-Qaida and serves as al-Qaida’s principal wing in East Africa.”
It already has a well-established record there of deadly terror attacks, including an attack on a hotel in Kenya last winter in which 21 people were killed and another attack on a U.S. facility in Kenya. Americans died in both attacks.
Abdullah attended a flight school in the Philippines between 2017 and 2019 while “he also conducted research into the means and methods to hijack a commercial airliner to conduct the planned attack, including security on commercial airliners and how to breach a cockpit door from the outside, information about the tallest building in a major U.S. city, and information about how to obtain a U.S. visa,” the DOJ said.
The 30-year-old is charged with conspiring to provide and providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization (al Shabaab), conspiring to murder U.S. nationals, conspiring to commit aircraft piracy, conspiring to destroy aircraft, and conspiring to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries.
He could face life in prison.
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