An al-Shabab terror group operative accused of conspiring to carry out a 9/11-style attack in the United States has been brought to New York to face terrorism charges, the Justice Department announced on Wednesday.
Kenyan national Cholo Abdi Abdullah was transferred on Tuesday from the Philippines where he had been in local custody since his arrest in July 2019. The Philippines handed him over to U.S. authorities on Tuesday.
Abdullah is accused of conspiring to hijack a commercial airliner and crash it into a building in the United States. As part of the plot directed by senior al-Shabab leaders, Abdullah allegedly obtained pilot training in the Philippines.
He was charged in a six-count indictment unsealed on Wednesday and expected to be presented to a federal magistrate judge in New York. The charges against him include providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens and conspiracy to hijack and destroy an aircraft
“This case, which involved a plot to use an aircraft to kill innocent victims, reminds us of the deadly threat that radical Islamic terrorists continue to pose to our nation,” assistant attorney general John Demers said in a statement. “No matter where terrorists who plan to target Americans may be located, we will seek to identify them and bring them to justice.”
Prosecutors said the alleged plot was part of a larger campaign by Somalia-based al-Shabab, al-Qaida’s principal affiliate in east Africa, to target Americans following the U.S. decision in 2018 to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
In January 2019, the group launched a suicide attack at a hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, killing about 21 people, including one American.
More recently, it has claimed responsibility for attacks on U.S. military facilities in both Kenya and Somalia.
According to the indictment, Abdullah traveled to the Philippines for pilot training at the direction of the al-Shabab commander responsible for the Nairobi hotel attack.
While attending an unidentified flight school, Abdullah conducted research on “the means and methods to hijack a commercial airline to conduct an attack,” according to the indictment. He allegedly researched online information about the tallest building in a major U.S. city, aircraft hijackings, and how to obtain a U.S. visa, the indictment said.