Federal prosecutors in New York have indicted a man who they say took direction from a “senior al-Shabab commander” and went to flight school in the Philippines so he could hijack a commercial airliner. They say the man also sought information “about the tallest building in a major U.S. city.”
The indictment, unsealed Wednesday, charges Cholo Abdi Abdullah with six counts which include multiple counts of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy and conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens.
Prosecutors allege Abdi Abdullah attended a flight school from 2017 and 2019 in the Philippines and obtained training, “ultimately completing the tests necessary to obtain his pilot’s license.”
They say he also allegedly researched how he could hijack a commercial airliner and breach a cockpit door, and sought “information about the tallest building in a major U.S. city, and information about how to obtain a U.S. visa.”
The charging documents say that Abdi Abdullah has been in the custody of law enforcement authorities in the Philippines since July 1, 2019 and he is arriving in New York to face charges in the custody of the FBI and New York Police Department.
In federal court this afternoon Abdullah told the judge, “I plead not guilty to all the counts.”
He has been ordered detained pending trial and his attorney said they reserve the right to ask for bail in the future.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement that the al-Shabab commander who allegedly directed Abdi Abdullah was responsible for planning the 2019 Nairobi hotel attack which killed 21 people, including a U.S. citizen who survived the 9/11 attacks.
FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney said “he obtained a pilot’s license overseas, learning how to hijack an aircraft for the purpose of causing a mass-casualty incident within our borders.”
Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss added, “this chilling callback to the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, is a stark reminder that terrorist groups like al-Shabab remain committed to killing U.S. citizens and attacking the United States.”
More details are expected to be announced today by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.