The US Department of Justice recently announced charges against a Kenyan national who, as an operative of the al Qaeda connected al Shabaab terror group, was tasked with crafting and executing a 9/11-style attack on US soil.
According to the indictment, Cholo Abdi Abdullah, a 30-year-old Kenyan national, received orders from the al Shabaab commander responsible for the 2019 hotel attack in Nairobi to undertake a 9/11-style attack inside the US in the name of al Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa.
The indictment reveals that Abdullah traveled to the Philippines where he successfully took flight lessons and researched how to forcibly take control of an airliner, with the goal of slamming it into a high-rise building inside the United States.
Abdullah was taken into custody by the Philippine authorities in July of 2019. He was subsequently extradited to US custody on December 15, 2020 and charged with several terror-related offenses.
Plot, the indictment alleges, was initiated in 2016
TERROR PLOT INDICTMENT: A Kenyan man was indicted on terrorism charges in New York City Wednesday morning.
Federal prosecutors say Cholo Abdi Abdullah was a member of the terror group Al-Shabab and trained as a pilot to stage a 9/11-style attack on a U.S. building. pic.twitter.com/6Iy2rOjkOk
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) December 16, 2020
According to the indictment, Abdullah “began the process of enrolling in” a flight school in the Philippines “in or about December 2016,” doing so “at the direction of” the same “senior” Shabaab commander who commanded the January 2019 hotel attack in Nairobi, Kenya.
Abdullah “sought to obtain pilot training, test flaws in airport security, and take other steps for hijacking a civil aircraft to use in conducting a terrorist attack on behalf of” al Shabaab, the indictment reads.
Abdullah attended the Philippine flight school from 2017 until mid-2019, Abdullah completing “the tests necessary to obtain his pilot’s license.”
While taking flight classes, Abdullah researched “how to breach a cockpit door from the outside” and sought “information about the tallest building in a major US city.” He also took preliminary steps to attain an American visa.
The federal indictment mentions “others known and unknown, at least one of whom is expected to be first brought to and arrested in the Southern District of New York,” who were part of the plot to recreate the horrors of September 11, 2001.
Any terror plot modeled after the 9/11 hijackings would necessarily involve multiple teams of hijackers. The indictment against Abdullah, however, does not specify how many al Qaeda operatives were instructed to train for the attack.