Federal prosecutors say Cholo Abdi Abdullah, 30, a Kenyan citizen, was an Al-Shabaab operative who in 2016 began seeking to be trained as a pilot and tested flaws in airport security at the direction of a “senior Al-Shabaab commander.”
He faces six counts, including conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, provision of material support to a foreign terrorist organization, conspiracy to murder US nationals, conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy, conspiracy to destroy aircraft, and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries.
Abdullah pleaded not guilty to all counts in the indictment Wednesday. US Magistrate Judge Robert Lehrburger ordered Abdullah to be detained.
Abdullah was arrested July 1, 2019 in the Philippines and has remained in custody since then, according to the indictment. Federal prosecutors said in a press release that he was transferred to US law enforcement custody in connection with his deportation from the Philippines on Tuesday.
He is being held at a federal detention facility in Manhattan and appeared via telephone conference for an arraignment on Wednesday, represented by defense attorney Jill Shellow. She had no further comment when contacted by CNN.
The indictment alleges that Abdullah researched ways to hijack a commercial plane that included how to breach a cockpit door from the outside, information about the tallest building in a major city in the US, and how to obtain a US visa.
Audrey Strauss, the acting United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, thanked the FBI’s relationship with law enforcement agencies around the world and the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force for helping detect the plot before Abdullah “could achieve his deadly aspirations.”
“This chilling callback to the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, is a stark reminder that terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab remain committed to killing U.S. citizens and attacking the United States,” Strauss said in a statement. “But we remain even more resolute in our dedication to investigating, preventing, and prosecuting such lethal plots, and will use every tool in our arsenal to stop those who would commit acts of terrorism at home and abroad.”