KANSAS CITY, Kansas – A 20-year-old man has been charged with planning a suicide bomb attack against the Fort Riley military base in Kansas, in an alleged plot to support the Islamic State group, federal prosecutors said Friday.
John T. Booker, of Topeka, was arrested Friday morning while trying to arm what he thought what a 1,000-pound bomb inside a van near the base, according to court documents. Prosecutors allege that he first met with an undercover FBI agent in October and expressed desire to engage in violent jihad on behalf of the terrorist group.
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The two met several times over the next several months, with Booker discussing ideas for killing Americans, according to the criminal complaint, which states that Booker told the informant that the act was permitted by because the Quran “says to kill your enemies wherever they are.”
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. Court documents didn’t show that he had an attorney.
Booker on the FBI radar
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.
The government said Booker signed up for the Army in February of 2014, but then began a series of Facebook posts which drew the attention of the FBI.
Authorities said he was interviewed, and admitted he enlisted in the US Army with the intent to commit an insider attack against American soldiers and “…wanted to target someone with power.”
He was denied entry into the Army, let go, but the FBI continued watching him.
“Since March of this year, he’s been plotting to construct an explosive device for an attack on American soil,” said U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom.
The FBI, working through a confidential informant, said Booker rented a storage unit in Topeka and began buying the components for a bomb from local retailers.
He then made a video saying, “We are going to build this bomb with 1,000 pounds of Ammonium Nitrate. Inshallah, this will kill many…”
Friday morning, the FBI informant said the components were moved near Junction City, near Fort Riley, where Booker began assembling the device in a van.
“He planned to pull the trigger of the explosives himself so that he would die in the explosion,” said Grissom.
Grissom said Booker was arrested near Manhattan, a city that borders the base.
“We face a continued threat from individuals within our own borders who may be motivated by a variety of reasons,” Grissom said. “Anyone who tries to harm this nation and its people will be brought to justice.”
Religious leader shares Booker’s questionable mental state
Imam Omar Hazim of the Islamic Center of Topeka told The Associated Press that two FBI agents brought Booker to him early in 2014 for counseling, hoping to turn the young man away from radical beliefs. Hazim said the agents told him that Booker suffered from bipolar disorder, characterized by unusual mood swings that can affect functioning.
Hazim said he expressed concerns to the FBI about allowing him to move freely in the community at their first encounter.
Hazim said he later heard that two others were involved in a bombing plot with Booker. He said the FBI told him they were undercover FBI agents and that the sting was arranged to get Booker, “off the streets.”
“I think the two FBI agents set him up, because they felt at that point someone else might have done the same thing and put a real bomb in his hands,” Hazim said.
He said he has come to the conclusion that the sting was the right thing to do. He said Booker admitted to him on Tuesday that he had stopped taking his medication because he didn’t like the way it made him feel and it was expensive.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas declined to comment on Hazim’s comments.
The soft-spoken Booker made his first court appearance Friday in U.S. District Court in Topeka, answering basic questions and correcting the spelling of his alias, Muhammad Abdullah Hassan. 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.
His father, John T. Booker Sr., told the AP that his son moved out about two years ago after graduating from high school. The elder Booker, an Army veteran who served in Desert Storm, said he and his son had talked only 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 Topeka.
Statement from Gov. Sam Brownback
“I appreciate the diligence of the FBI and members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, including the Kansas Highway
Patrol and Kansas Bureau of Investigation, for working together to successfully thwart this potential attack. The state has worked hard to enhance the collaborative efforts of local, state and federal partners in matters of homeland security and to protect Kansans.
“The investigation is ongoing and today’s arrest serves as a reminder that even here in America’s heartland we must remain vigilant against threats to our nation.”