Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have charged Cholo Abdi Abdullah, a Kenyan man, with plotting to hijack an aircraft and attack a building in an American city, similarly to 9/11. The man is a member of the al-Shabaab terror group.
Abdullah 30, was arrested in the Philippines in 2019 while making preparations to hijack an aircraft and crash it into a building in the United States, federal prosecutors said in New York.
Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement that, “this chilling callback to the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is a stark reminder that terrorist groups like al-Shabab remain committed to killing U.S. citizens.”
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York, an investigation showed that Abdullah was attending flight school in the Philippines. He had completed the requirements to obtain a pilot’s license.
At the same time, he was researching how to breach a cockpit door. He was also gathering information about the tallest building in a “major U.S. city” and trying to get an American visa. According to the indictment, he was conducting all of these activities at the behest of al-Shabaab, an African sub-group of al-Qaeda.
Abdullah was arrested by the Philippine authorities, according to CNN Philippines, for possession of an IED, a hand grenade, and a weapon. He was brought to the United States and was arraigned in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Wednesday.
He faces several charges including conspiring to provide and providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, conspiring to murder Americans, to commit aircraft piracy, to destroy aircraft, and to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries.
“I plead not guilty to all the counts,” Abdullah said during his virtual arraignment in court. Judge Analisa Torres ordered him held without bail. His next court date is slated for January 6. If he’s convicted, Abdullah faces a minimum of 20 years in prison with a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Jill R. Shellow, Abdullah’s lawyer, had no comment after the hearing.
Since the Trump administration decided to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018, al-Shabaab has shifted nearly all of its focus on attacking the United States.
Al-Shabaab conducted an attack in January 2020 on an American airfield in Manda Bay, Kenya. The attack killed three U.S. citizens: one military member and two contractors.
The terrorist organization was also responsible for the bombing of a Nairobi luxury hotel in January 2019. Twenty-one people died in that attack.