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Chicago Terror Suspect Appears in US Federal Court

Twenty-six-year-old Shaker Masri appeared in U.S. Federal Court in Chicago on Monday. Masri is charged with attempting to provide support to the al-Qaida-linked Somali group al-Shabab, which the United States calls a terrorist organization.

Terror suspect Shaker Masri waived his right to a preliminary hearing during his court appearance. Masri, who was arrested on August 3, faces charges that include providing material support to a terrorist organization and intent to use weapons of mass destruction.

The case against Masri details specifics of his alleged plan to travel to Somalia to fight in an armed insurgency.

Because Masri appears to have acted alone in his plan to travel to the East African nation, much of what the government knows about his intentions comes from recorded conversations he had with a paid government informant.

University of Illinois at Chicago criminal law professor Matthew Lippman says that because of Masri's interaction with that informant, it may not be an "open and shut" case for the prosecution.

"Now you are getting into a very controversial area of the law - the law of entrapment," said Matthew Lippman.

Lippman says that before he enters a plea, Masri's court appointed defense attorney will likely look at the level of involvement the government informant had in getting Masri to reveal where he was going, and what he planned to do.

"If they just offered him one opportunity and he jumped at the chance, then you can say that he had the pre-disposition, and the government didn't persuade or convince him," he said. "But if, over time, they made a number of offers and he hesitated, and they had to come back to persuade him, then you've got a situation that is much more complicated."

Lippman says the odds are not in Masri's favor to successfully defend his case. According to Lippman, the government's success rate in prosecuting terrorism suspects makes it unlikely that Masri's case will ever come before a jury.

"The government's success record, particularly looking at the Federal Government, is extraordinary, if it goes to trial," said Lippman. "His attorney is going to counsel him to plead guilty to a lesser [crime], and get a lesser sentence."

If convicted, Masri could face up to 30 years in prison.

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    Kane Farabaugh

    Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.