Federal authorities have unsealed an indictment charging a Kenyan man with trying to stage a 9/11-style attack on the United States on behalf of the al-Shabab group.
Cholo Abdi Abdullah, 30, who was arrested in the Philippines in 2019, was transferred to US custody Tuesday on charges that he conspired to hijack an aircraft and slam it into a building.
He was making an initial court appearance in New York on Wednesday.
Prosecutors said Abdullah received flight training in the Philippines and obtained a pilot’s licence in preparation for an attack.
“This case, which involved a plot to use an aircraft to kill innocent victims, reminds us of the deadly threat that radical Islamic terrorists continue to pose to our nation,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in a statement.
Acting Manhattan US Attorney Audrey Strauss called it a “chilling callback to the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001”.
Abdullah, prosecutors said, started planning the attack in 2016 under the direction of an al-Shabab commander who was also involved in planning a deadly attack in 2019 on a hotel in Nairobi, Kenya.
“Beginning in or about 2016, at the direction of a senior al Shabaab commander…the defendant, sought to obtain pilot training, test flaws in airport security, and take other steps for hijacking a civil aircraft to use in conducting a terrorist attack on behalf of al Shabaab,” the indictment read.
The State Department has designated the Somalia-based group al-Shabab, an al-Qaida affiliate, as a foreign terrorist organisation.
He also researched potential hijacking methods and sought information on how to obtain a US visa.
The name of a lawyer in the US who could speak on Abdullah’s behalf was not immediately available.
In the past, the Philippines had been a launching pad for deadly attacks.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the accused al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks, had previously told his interrogators that the plot to attack New York and Washington DC was first hatched in the Philippines.
Mohammed had lived in Manila in the 1990s, alongside his nephew Ramzi Yousef, who is serving life in prison for the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
Yousef was also the main suspect of the bombing of the Philippine Airlines flight to Japan.