CINCINNATI – A West Chester man who supports ISIL terrorists planned to kill government officials in a violent attack that included assault rifles, Molotov cocktails and a southern Ohio police station, federal officials say.
Munir Abdulkader, 21, pleaded guilty to attempting to kill officers and employees of the United States, material support of a foreign terrorist organization and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.
Between July 2014 and May 2015, Abdulkader communicated with members of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and expressed support for the group on Twitter and wrote that his cousin was killed while fighting for them, federal officials announced Thursday.
The Associated Press reported that Abdulkader was born in the East African nation of Eritrea. He became a U.S. citizen in 2006, according to court records.
Abdulkader graduated from Lakota East in 2013 and was a student at Xavier University from 2013 until 2015, according to officials from the two schools.
“University officials have conferred with the FBI and at no time were our students or campus at risk of harm,” Xavier said in a news release.
Abdulkader also made plans to travel to Syria to join ISIL, according to officials. He was scheduled to depart May 2, 2015, but expressed concerns about his ability to travel in late April and postponed the trip.
That May, Abdulkader remained in communication with ISIL members. One of them, Junaid Hussein, "directed and encouraged Abdulkader to plan and execute a violent attack within the United States," officials said in a news release (Hussein was killed by a U.S. airstrike last August).
Abdulkader planned to abduct and kill a military employee, and film the execution. He would then "execute a violent attack on a police station in the Southern District of Ohio using firearms and Molotov cocktails," officials said.
"It’s significant that Abdulkader was not just inspired by terrorist groups—he was in direct contact with the ISIL recruiter Junaid Hussein, who encouraged and directed his planned attack. That kind of direct contact with overseas terrorists is real, and it can happen -- and did happen -- right here in the Southern District of Ohio," Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman said.
In preparation, Abdulkader purchased an ammunition vest, conducted surveillance of a police station, trained and practiced at a shooting range and bought an AK-47 assault rife, officials said.
The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested Abdulkader in Mason on May 21, 2015 after he purchased the gun.
Abdulkader was charged the next day and pleaded guilty to the three charges on March 24 of this year.
Officials wouldn't say what military employee or what police station Abdulkader planned to attack.
ABC News terrorism analyst Brad Garrett said it's fairly routine for the suspect in a case like this to plead guilty.
"Once an undercover operation is conducted against them, the evidence is overwhelming," he said. "... Every step of the violation of federal law, whether it has something to do with committing a terrorist attack or supporting one is all literally recorded."
Investigators can pull in somebody's background, their phone records, social media, text messages, etc. and find the links between foreign recruiters in places like Syria and would-be terrorists in the U.S., Garrett said.
"If you think about trying to take that to trial, it's probably a losing proposition," he said.
Abdulkader faces a mandatory sentence of five years in prison for possession of a firearm in furtherance of an attempted crime of violence. He also faces up to 20 years for attempted murder of government employees and officials and another 15 years for material support of a foreign terrorist organization.
Leaders with the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati released a statement saying they were "deeply disturbed" by the news of Abdulkader's plan and that no one by his name was listed on their membership rolls or any other activities.
"The local Muslim community and the Center in particular has zero tolerance for any illegal activities, especially in a potential case or situation involving terrorism," they wrote.
The case has some similarities to that of Christopher Lee Cornell, a Green Township man accused of plotting to set off explosives in the U.S. Capitol.
Like Abdulkader, expressed support for the Islamic State on Twitter and sought to communicate with its members online, according to court records.
Cornell was also arrested after authorities said he purchased rifles and ammunition.
The Islamic State leader who authorities said Cornell claimed to have been in contact with was also killed by a U.S. strike.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Glassman for the Southern District of Ohio, Special Agent in Charge Angela L. Byers of the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Division, West Chester Police Chief Joel Herzog, Ohio State Highway Patrol Superintendent Colonel Paul A. Pride and Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac made the announcement about Abdulkader's arrest and guilty plea after the case was unsealed Thursday.
"We’re fortunate that the FBI’s Joint Terorrism Task Force was able to detect and stop this plot before any violence took place," Glassman said. "The JTTF does tremendous work, day in and day out, to keep us safe, but we need everyone’s help: if you know someone who seems to be going down a path of radicalization -- you see a change in behavior or start to hear things that sound scary, and you can tell that something isn’t right -- please say something. Let law enforcement know. Let your family know. What we can’t afford to do is to sit on our hands, because when it comes to keeping the Southern District of Ohio safe from terrorism, we’re all in this together."