CHICAGO – A 26-year-old Chicago man who claimed to be inspired by a radical Muslim cleric was charged after the FBI uncovered his plot to go to Somalia to become a suicide bomber for al-Qaida and another terror group, federal prosecutors alleged in court documents unsealed Wednesday.
Shaker Masri was taken into custody Tuesday evening, hours before he was scheduled to leave the country for a trip to his ultimate destination, Somalia, prosecutors said. He was charged with trying to aid al-Qaida and al-Shabab, a violent extremist group in Somalia, and attempting to provide support through the use of a weapon of mass destruction outside the United States.
Masri's arrest marks the second time in less than a month in which federal authorities have arrested someone suspected of plotting to join al-Shabab. Masri suggested to a confidential informant that he "personally knew" the man who was arrested in Virginia, according to court documents.
Last month in Virginia, Zachary Chesser, who was known for posting an online warning to the creators of "South Park" that they risked death by mocking the Prophet Muhammad, was arrested and charged with offering himself as a fighter to al-Shabab.
In Chicago, prosecutors said that Masri claimed to know a man in Virginia who was recently arrested but the FBI had found no "direct contact" between the two, according to court documents.
Masri also told an informant that he was an admirer of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born radical Muslim cleric who is believed to be hiding in Yemen, and hoped that the cleric would become an al-Qaida "leader," prosecutors said in court papers. Al-Awlaki is believed have helped inspire recent attacks in the U.S., including the Fort Hood, Texas, shootings, the fizzled Times Square bombing attempt and the failed Christmas Day bombing of a jetliner approaching Detroit.
Masri, who faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for each charge, was ordered to remain in custody after prosecutors called him a flight risk and a danger to the community. He told the judge he was a U.S. citizen, and court documents said he was born in Alabama and spent years overseas before returning to the United States when he was 18.
In a news release, the U.S. Attorney's Office said he was living in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood and was arrested without incident in the suburb of Countryside. The office had no further details about his background.
According to court documents, Masri started talking to a confidential FBI informant of his plans a little more than two weeks ago, asking that he help him find a job to earn money for the Middle East, as well as come up with money to buy guns.
In the court documents, prosecutors alleged that Masri told the informant that "he did not expect to reach the age of 30" and that he "hoped to become a martyr by wearing a suicide vest," and that he told the informant, "he only wanted one thing, 'a suicide mission.'"
Masri's attorney, Matthew McQuaid, said he was not prepared to comment because he had not yet seen any evidence or even had a chance to speak with Masri extensively about the charges.
Prosecutors also said in the documents that at one time Masri was employed by a nonprofit group that provided free English language translations of the Quran in the United States. No other details were immediately available about Masri and the charges.
Five months ago, Chicago cab driver Raja Lahrasib Khan was arrested on charges that he attempted to send aid to al-Qaida by donating money to Ilyas Kashmiri, a terrorist leader who opposes Indian control of the disputed territory of Kashmir. He has pleaded not guilty.