Terror Plotter Took Flight Training to Prepare for 9/11-Style Attack, Feds Say

Cholo Abdi Abdullah is expected in federal court in New York later Wednesday

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What to Know

  • Kenyan national Cholo Abdi Abdullah will appear in a New York City federal court Wednesday on terror-related charges
  • Prosecutors allege Abdullah was plotting a 9/11-style attack, going so far as to obtain years of flight training in the Philippines
  • He was arrested in that country in the summer of 2019 with a bomb and bomb-making equipment

A Kenyan man spent years training in the Philippines to conduct a 9/11-style attack against the United States, going through flight school and researching methods to get into the country and hijack a plane, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

Cholo Abdi Abdullah was allegedly part of an al-Shabaab unit and taking orders directly from a commander in the African terror group -- one who was responsible for previously directing a deadly 2019 hotel attack in Nairobi, prosecutors said.

"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," Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement.

Abdullah, 30, who has been in custody since last year, entered a not guilty plea in a New York federal court Wednesday and was ordered held without bail. He faces multiple criminal counts related to his alleged plot and support for the terror group, with a potential sentence of anywhere from 20 years to life in prison.

Officials say he was conducting research on American skyscrapers as potential targets - but it was not immediately clear if any New York landmarks were on his list.

Filipino news outlets widely reported his arrest in July 2019, though the details of the alleged plot were not known at the time. According to the web site Rappler, Abdullah had a bomb and bomb-making equipment when he was arrested.

“Nearly 20 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there are those who remain determined to conduct terror attacks against United States citizens. Abdullah, we allege, is one of them," FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney said in a statement on the indictment. "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."

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