US prosecutors indict al Qaeda-affiliated Kenyan national

The US Department of Justice unsealed an indictment Wednsesday charging Cholo Abdi Abdullah, a Kenyan member of the al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group al Shabaab, with six counts of terrorism-related crimes for allegedly plotting an attack similar to those carried out by al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001.

Al Shabaab, a wing of al Qaeda in East Africa, joined al Qaeda’s increased efforts dubbed “Operation Jerusalem Will Never be Judaized” to target Americans after the US moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in 2018. The group was labeled a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) by the US Secretary of State in 2008 and has issued repeated threats against the US. The indictment cites one such incidents: “[A]fter an al Shabaab member was killed in or about May 2008, al Shabaab leaders declared that its fighters would ‘hunt the U.S. government’ and that governments supporting the United States and Ethiopia should keep their citizens out of Somalia.”

Around 2016 Abdullah allegedly began reading al Qaeda and al Shabaab propaganda and sought pilot training by enrolling in a flight school in the Philippines. By 2019 he earned his pilot’s license, continuing to research means of hijacking a plane and searching for potential US buildings to target. He was detained by law enforcement in the Philippines in July 2019.

The six charges against Abdullah include providing material support to an FTO and conspiracy to murder US nationals. The indictment states: “It was a part and an object of the conspiracy that Cholo Abdi Abdullah, the defendant, and others known and unknown, would set fire to, damage, destroy, disable, and wreck an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States.”

The prosecution will be handled by the Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit of the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

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