Cholo Abdi Abdullah

Cholo Abdi Abdullah, the Kenyan national who has been charged in the United States with an attempt to hijack an aircraft to undertake a 9/11 style attack on behalf of Al-Shabaab.

| Pool | Nation Media Group

Kenyan national charged in the US with plotting 9/11 style attack

What you need to know:

  • Mr Abdullah was arrested in July 2019 in the Philippines.
  • He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, and a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.  

A Kenyan national has been charged in the United States with an attempt to hijack an aircraft to undertake a 9/11 style attack on behalf of Al-Shabaab.

While unsealing his indictment, the US justice department said Cholo Abdi Abdullah, 30, was being charged with six counts of terrorism-related offenses arising from his activities as an operative of Al-Shabaab, including conspiring to hijack aircraft in order to conduct a 9/11-style attack in the US.

Mr Abdullah was arrested in July 2019 in the Philippines and was subsequently transferred on December 15, 2020 in connection with his deportation from the Philippines to the custody of US law enforcement for prosecution on the charges in the indictment.  

He was presented before Magistrate Judge Robert W. Lehrburger in Manhattan federal court.

The case is assigned to United States District Judge Analisa Torres.

“As alleged, Cholo Abdi Abdullah, as part of a terrorist plot directed by senior Al Shabaab leaders, obtained pilot training in the Philippines in preparation for seeking to hijack a commercial aircraft and crash it into a building in the United States,” said Acting Manhattan US Attorney Audrey Strauss. 

“This chilling callback to the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, is a stark reminder that terrorist groups like Al Shabaab remain committed to killing US citizens and attacking the United States,” Mr Strauss.

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney Jr said that “nearly 20 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there are those who remain determined to conduct terror attacks against United States citizens. 

Hijack an aircraft

“He obtained a pilot’s license overseas, learning how to hijack an aircraft for the purpose of causing a mass-casualty incident within our borders. Fortunately, the exceptional work by the men and women assigned to the many agencies that comprise the FBI’s New York JTTF have, once again, disrupted a threat to our communities,” Mr Sweeney Jr said.

“As alleged in the federal indictment against him, Mr Abdullah had obtained pilot training and begun plotting a terrorist attack against a target in the United States,” said NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea.  

“But the outstanding work of our NYPD detectives and federal agents of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, along with all of our law enforcement partners, put an end to those plans and ensured that no one would be harmed.”

The charges in the Indictment unsealed arise out of a coordinated scheme by the terrorist organization Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, commonly known as “Al Shabaab,” to target Americans both at home and abroad.  

Al Shabaab, which has sworn allegiance to Al Qaeda and serves as Al Qaeda’s principal wing in East Africa, is responsible for numerous deadly terrorist attacks.  

Recently, Al Shabaab has embarked on a string of terrorist attacks as part of an operation purportedly in response to the United States’ decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which the group has dubbed “Operation Jerusalem Will Never be Judaized.” 

In particular, these terrorist attacks perpetrated by Al Shabaab include an attack on January 15, 2019 at the Dusit D2 hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 21 people, and a January 5, 2020, attack on another US facility in Kenya, in which three Americans were killed.    

According to the indictment, Mr Abdullah was an Al Shabaab operative who participated in a plot to hijack commercial aircraft and crash them into a building in the US.

9/11-style attack

Beginning in 2016, at the direction of a senior Al Shabaab commander who was responsible for, among other things, planning the 2019 Nairobi hotel attack, Abdullah traveled to the Philippines and enrolled in a flight school there, for the purpose of obtaining training for carrying out the 9/11-style attack.  

Between 2017 and 2019, Abdullah attended the Flight School on various occasions and obtained pilot’s training, ultimately completing the tests necessary to obtain his pilot’s license. 

While Mr Abdullah was obtaining pilot training at the Flight School, he also conducted research into the means and methods to hijack a commercial airliner to conduct the planned attack, including security on commercial airliners and how to breach a cockpit door from the outside, information about the tallest building in a major U.S. city, and information about how to obtain a US visa.

Mr Abdullah is now charged with conspiring to provide and providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization (Al Shabaab), conspiring to murder US nationals, conspiring to commit aircraft piracy, conspiring to destroy aircraft, and conspiring to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries.  

He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, and a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.