A former American soldier was charged in Greenbelt, Md. with providing material support to the Somali jihadist organization, al-Shabaab, the U.S. Justice Department announced Monday.
Al-Shabaab was officially designated a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" by the U.S. State Department in February 2008 and is closely affiliated with al-Qaida. A Homeland Security Department investigative report has called the terrorist group's successful recruitment and radicalization of Somali American Muslims within the U.S. "a direct threat to the U.S. homeland."
Craig Benedict Baxam of Laurel, Md., who converted to Islam shortly before he left the U.S. Army in July last year, was arrested by Kenyan police in December 2011 for attempting to travel to Somalia to join al-Shabaab militants in the country.
According to the court filings, Baxam joined the Army in 2007 where he underwent an eight-month advanced training in intelligence and cryptology. He got interested in Islam while surfing an Islamic religious website on the Internet. Baxam, who was then serving in Korea, converted to Islam but kept his conversion a secret. His roommate in the Army however discovered his secret after he saw Baxam's prayer rug and books.
The complaint alleges Baxam was wary about searching for al-Shabaab on his computer because he was "aware of the capabilities of the United States government." Before leaving for Somalia, Baxam destroyed his computer "because he did not want anything on his record and it would help him keep a low profile."
Upon his return to Maryland, Baxam spent considerable time praying and reading about Islam. He considered it his Islamic duty to migrate to Muslim lands governed by Sharia. According to Baxam, the only true Islamic lands that were governed by Sharia were the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, al-Shabaab-ruled areas of Somalia, and the southern islands of the Philippines.
"Killing is justified in Islam if the religion is under threat," the complaint quotes Baxam saying.
Baxam allegedly told federal agents during his interrogation that his loyalties lay with Islam and would fight the United States to defend Sharia law in Islam lands.
"Living an Islamic way of life in the United States is oppressive," Baxam said. He also believed that the U.S. and coalition forces were losing the war. "The weapons and technology are irrelevant because Allah is on their side. The World is at war with Islam and the World is losing."
Baxam used about $3,600 dollars from his retirement savings to purchase a plane ticket to Kenya and then traveled to Somalia from there. He also planned to give over $600 to al-Shabaab as a gift when he got to Somalia.
"The arrest is highly illustrative of the progress the international law enforcement community has made in working together to rapidly share resources and information in order to stop terrorism," FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard McFeely said in a statement. "FBI Special Agents in Africa, working alongside our Kenyan police partners, worked together to stop an individual who is now alleged to have been on his way to join a major terrorist group. This spirit of cooperation in fighting terrorism continues to transcend borders around the world," McFeely added.
Baxam faces a maximum sentence of 15 years followed by three years of supervised release if found guilty.