A US-born Chicago man who allegedly planned to travel to Somalia with hopes of joining Al Qaeda and Al Shabab, both terrorist organizations, was arrested by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents early Wednesday morning and charged with attempting to provide material support through the use of a weapon of mass destruction.
According to the FBI complaint, Shaker Masri spent the past three weeks planning a trip to Somalia, where he planned to purchase weapons and train for jihadist fighting. Mr. Masri intended to pose as an international gold importer, the complaint says.
He made plans with a work colleague who doubled as an FBI informant. In recordings of several phone conversations and face-to-face meetings, Masri, who was born in Alabama, indicated he did not plan to reach age 30 but wanted “a suicide mission” because this is what “infidels” “hate the most,” he said.
Masri’s plans apparently changed over time, but they all allegedly ended in Somalia. According to the FBI complaint, he said he made advance contact with a recruiter for Al Shabab, which would train and place him in Al Muhajiroun, a local militant group.
What makes this arrest disturbing, says Thomas Mockaitis, a terrorism expert at DePaul University in Chicago, is that it is further evidence that Islamic extremism is being fostered on US soil through the recruitment of US citizens. A recent example is David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American based in Chicago who pleaded guilty earlier this year conspiring with Lashkar-e-Taiba in planning the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed some 170 people.
“There is growing concern of this recruitment in the US,” Mr. Mockaitis says. “[Masri] was obviously not very bright.... But for every one you catch, how many out there do you not catch?”
One itinerary to Somalia, the complaint says, originated in Chicago and included a flight to Los Angeles, a car trip to Mexico, a second flight to Venezuela or Panama, and then a third flight to East Africa. Masri allegedly said he intended to purchase weapons there for $1,000. He wanted to then stop by Jordan to say goodbye to his brother.
According to the complaint, which is based on wiretaps made by the informant, Masri booked two one-way tickets on Southwest Airlines for both men to leave on Wednesday. He was arrested at his Chicago apartment in the city’s Streeterville neighborhood hours before that flight was scheduled to depart.
In the past few days, the complaint says, Masri engaged in several phone calls with both his mother and a girlfriend in London. Those conversations illustrate a resolve to fight, but also stark feelings of isolation.
“Life is not worth living for me. I cannot enjoy life. I have not enjoyed it since I was 18. I have not enjoyed life since I was a child. I lost that innocence. I need to regain it back,” he told the girlfriend. “This is something beyond your control or my control.”
Those feelings, Mockaitis says, suggest “double alienation” – a common condition of young people who feel isolated from Western culture and the foreign customs and values of their parents, most of whom were born abroad. “They’re very amenable to this type of recruitment. That seems to be the case here,” he says.
Masri also apparently directed rage at US troops. On July 31, according to the complaint, Masri was recorded observing four US soldiers and saying he wished he could blow them up on a suicide mission. When asked why he would waste such efforts on only four soldiers, Masri reconsiders his wish, saying that, if given the opportunity, he would wait until he could strike a busload of soldiers.
Masri is being held without bond until his next court appearance Aug. 9. If convicted, he could serve up to 30 years in jail.