COLUMBUS: A Columbus man described by his attorney as “a normal 23-year-old kid” pleaded not guilty Friday to charges he traveled to Syria and trained alongside terrorists, then returned to the United States with plans to attack a military base or a prison.
Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud, a U.S. citizen originally from Somalia, wanted to “kill three or four American soldiers execution style,” according to an indictment.
His goal was to attack an unnamed military base in Texas and a prison if that didn’t work, the indictment said.
Mohamud traveled to Syria and received terrorism training on weapons, combat and tactics, Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Squires said after a brief court hearing.
“His intent for the United States was to kill Americans,” Squires said. “That included U.S. military, police and anyone in uniform.”
The indictment says Mohamud’s brother, Abdifatah Aden, fought with Jabhat al-Nusrah, a State Department-designated terrorist group, until he was killed in battle in Syria in June 2014.
Mohamud was charged with supporting terrorism, supporting a terrorist group and making a false statement involving international terrorism. Prosecutors said he lied to an Ohio FBI agent by saying he was in Istanbul when he was really in Syria.
Mohamud was arrested in Columbus in February on state terrorism and money-laundering counts.
He came to the United States in 1999, grew up in the Columbus area and became a U.S. citizen in February 2014, according to the government and Mohamud’s attorney, Sam Shamansky.
Security was tighter than usual at the downtown federal court building, with three Homeland Security police officers stationed out front and an officer with a dog at the court’s metal detector. Judge Elizabeth Deavers took the rare step of banning all electronic devices from the courtroom.
Mohamud was shackled at the ankles, and his wrists were shackled to his waist. He sat quietly during the hearing, listening intently to the judge. He replied politely but quietly, saying, “Yes, ma’am” to questions.
His sister and mother attended the hearing but declined to comment afterward.
Shamansky called the charges serious but said the government was only presenting one side. He labeled the indictment a “cherry-picked” document as significant for what it didn’t say as what it did.
Mohamud has no criminal record, has never been violent and didn’t try to flee during the year the government tailed him, Shamansky said. Mohamud went to high school in Whitehall in suburban Columbus, is close to his family, likes to play basketball and has worked in the past, he said.
“In many respects, he’s just a normal 23-year-old kid. Period,” Shamansky said.
Events leading to Mohamud’s arrest began around September 2013 when he communicated online with his brother about plans to travel to Syria to fight, the indictment said. They later talked about ways Mohamud could support him financially, according to the government.