TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 20-year-old man accused of planning a suicide attack at Fort Riley was arrested Friday while trying to arm what he thought was a 1,000-pound bomb near the Kansas military base as part of a plot to support the Islamic State group, federal prosecutors said.
John T. Booker Jr. made his first federal court appearance later Friday in Topeka, his hometown. Prosecutors allege he told an FBI informant that he wanted to kill Americans and engage in violent jihad on behalf of the terrorist group. Court documents allege he told the informant that attack was justified because the Quran “says to kill your enemies wherever they are.”
“It was alleged that he planned to pull the trigger of the explosives himself so that he would die in the explosion,” U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said during a news conference Friday morning. “He told an individual that detonating a suicide bomb was his No. 1 aspiration because he couldn’t be captured and all the evidence would be destroyed and he would be guaranteed to hit his target.”
Grissom said Booker was arrested without incident near Manhattan, a city that borders Fort Riley about 100 miles west of Kansas City. The FBI said there was no breach at the base.
The soft-spoken Booker answered basic questions and corrected the spelling of his alias, Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, during the hearing Friday afternoon in federal court. Prosecutors said he posed a danger to the community, and Booker was ordered to remain jailed. A grand jury is expected to consider the case next week
Booker’s public defender, Kirk Redmond, declined comment following the hearing.
Booker was recruited to join the Army in February 2014, but came to the attention of federal investigators after posting messages on Facebook. The FBI said a post on March 19, 2014, read: “Getting ready to be killed in jihad is a HUGE adrenaline rush! I am so nervous. NOT because I’m scared to die but I am eager to meet my lord.” His enlistment was terminated a few days later at the request of the Army Criminal Investigation Command, according to the Army.
His father, John T. Booker Sr., told The Associated Press that his son moved out after graduating from high school about two years ago. The elder Booker, himself an Army veteran who served in Desert storm, said he and his son had only talked about four times in the past year.
He said he is Methodist and his wife is Catholic, and that he knew nothing about the religious beliefs of his son.
“I did everything that a father should do: I took him to school, I took him to doctor’s appointments, I made sure he graduated. But once kids turn 18 and graduate, parents have no control over them,” the father said as he placed a no-trespassing sign in front of his home in tree-lined street in Topeka.
“The one statement that I will make is that I’m glad that he was arrested and that no one got hurt,” he said.
Prosecutors said Booker started meeting with the FBI informant in October. He allegedly told the informant he wanted to make a video threatening Americans and warning them to get their relatives and friends to quit the military. He said his intent was to “scare this country” and to tell the people that, “we will be coming after American soldiers in the streets … we will be picking them off one by one,” according to the court documents.
Booker is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to damage property by means of an explosive, and attempting to provide material support to the terrorist group. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
Grissom declined to take questions during a Friday morning news conference. His spokesman didn’t immediately respond to an email from the AP asking about Booker’s religious background and when he may have become radicalized.
The FBI has focused attention in the last year on individuals who profess allegiance to the Islamic State and who either make plans to fight alongside jihadists in Syria or commit acts of violence in the United States. Other cases have involved current or former service members; last month, a U.S. Army National Guard soldier was charged in Illinois after trying to fly to Egypt.
“We face a continued threat from individuals within our own borders who may be motivated by a variety of reasons,” Grissom said during the news conference. “Anyone who tries to harm this nation and its people will be brought to justice.”
Heather Hollingsworth reported from Kansas City, Mo. Associated Press writers Nicholas Clayton in Topeka, Bill Draper in Kansas City, Mo., and Roxana Hegeman in Wichita contributed to this report.
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