A Columbus, Ohio, man has been charged with participating in an al-Qaida plot to blow up a shopping mall in Ohio, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Monday.
“The American heartland was targeted for death and destruction by an al-Qaida cell,” Ashcroft said at a news conference announcing the four-count indictment against the man, Nuradin Abdi, 32, a cellular telephone business owner in Columbus who is originally from Somalia.
The indictment, which was handed up by a criminal grand jury in Columbus on Thursday and was unsealed Monday, charges that Abdi conspired with admitted al-Qaida member Iyman Faris and others to detonate a bomb at a shopping mall in the Columbus area after he obtained military-style training in Ethiopia.
FBI officials in Columbus said there were no indications which mall was supposed to have been targeted.
Immigration document fraud also alleged
Abdi, who has been in custody since November on immigration-related violations, also was charged with fraud and misuse of documents by claiming that he had been granted valid asylum status in the United States. In fact, prosecutors say, he obtained that refugee document under false pretenses.
There also were one count each of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, in this case al-Qaida.
Each count of the terrorism-related charges carries a maximum 30-year sentence, and the immigration charges carry maximum penalties of 25 years, Ashcroft said.
A government motion seeking to keep Abdi in detention says he returned to the United States from Africa in March 2000 and was met at the airport in Columbus by Faris. Those two and other unidentified co-conspirators were involved in the alleged shopping mall plot, prosecutors say.
Columbus is home to more than 30,000 Somalis, the second-largest Somali community in the United States after Minneapolis. Abdi’s brother, Mohamed Abdi Karani, 17, said he had been told nothing about the case.
“I just find out whatever you find out,” he told a reporter.
Secret travel to Africa charged
One of the immigration charges contends that Abdi concealed his true destination when he applied for a U.S. travel document on April 27, 1999. He said he was going to Germany and Saudi Arabia to visit Mecca and relatives.
In fact, “as the defendant well knew, he planned to travel to Ogaden, Ethiopia, for the purpose of obtaining military-style training in preparation for violent Jihad,” the indictment says. The training allegedly included use of guns, bombs and guerrilla warfare.
Faris, 34, is serving a 20-year federal sentence after pleading guilty last June to providing material support to al-Qaida. Faris, an Ohio-based truck driver originally from Kashmir, admitted plotting to sever the cables supporting the Brooklyn Bridge in New York and to derail trains in New York or Washington.
Neither of those plots came to fruition.
Faris had received instructions from a top al-Qaida leader, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, for what might have been a second wave of attacks to follow those of Sept. 11, 2001, investigators say. Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the hijackings, is in U.S. custody at an undisclosed overseas location.