Kenya-born militant faces hijacking and other terror charges

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US prosecutors charged a Kenya-born militant with terrorism-related offenses, including conspiring to hijack aircraft for a 9/11-style attack on an American target on behalf of the Somali-based al-Shabaab militant group.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the US Justice Department said Cholo Abdi Abdullah (30) was arrested in the Philippines in July 2019 and transferred to the US on Tuesday to face six federal charges related to alleged terrorism.

At a hearing held via electronic link, Abdullah told a US magistrate judge he was pleading not guilty to all the charges. His defence lawyer agreed with the judge Abdullah should remain in custody pending a January hearing.

The Justice Department said Abdullah, acting at the direction of an unnamed senior al-Shabaab commander, travelled to the Philippines in 2016 to enrol in a flight school to train for a possible 9/11-style attack.

The al-Shabaab commander in question was responsible for planning a January 2019 attack on a hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, where more than 20 people were killed, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said between 2017 and 2019, Abdullah attended the flight school on “various occasions” and ultimately completed tests to obtain a pilot’s license.

While training to be a pilot, Abdullah researched how to hijack a commercial airliner flight, including how to breach a locked cockpit door from the cabin, they said. He also researched information about the tallest building in an unidentified US city and how to obtain a US visa.

Abdullah faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a possible maximum life sentence.