NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A Kenyan man has been arrested in the Philippines for allegedly planning a 9/11-style attack in the United States.
The U.S. attorney’s office confirmed 30-year-old Cholo Abdi Abdullah is charged in connection with a plot to hijack a plane and crash it.
He was brought to the U.S. from the Philippines, where he’s been held since July of 2019 on local charges.
The 30-year-old pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in Lower Manhattan.
The indictment charges Abdullah was plotting a 9/11-style attack against the U.S. It says he attended a flight school in the Philippines and visited a webpage about al-Qaida’s attacks on 9/11.
Abdullah was allegedly an operative of the foreign terrorist organization al Shabaab.
Al Shabaab has previously targeted Americans. A hotel attack in Nairobi, Kenya, in January 2019 killed 21 people, including a U.S. national and a survivor of 9/11 attacks in New York.
“Al Shabaab is very scary. It’s branched off as a part of al-Qaida, mostly in Africa, and they are very, very much committed to attacking us in any way they can,” former FBI agent Manny Gomez told CBS2’s Dick Brennan.
The indictment says al Shabaab wanted revenge against the U.S. after it moved its U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
It says Abdullah was doing research about attacks online, including security on commercial airlines and how to breach a cockpit door from the outside.
He also allegedly looked for information about the tallest building in a major U.S. city but didn’t specify which one, and he searched for information about aircraft hijacking and how to obtain a U.S. visa.
“It seems pretty obviously, as per the complaint, that he was trying to mimic, copy the 9/11 attack, and he was going right by that blueprint, and thank god that he was caught beforehand,” Gomez said.
It’s believed that Abdullah had accomplices, and one may be arrested and charged soon.
Abdullah is being held without bail. He is due back in court on Jan. 6.
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