A 19-year-old Jacksonville, Fla. man trained for violent jihad and traveled to the Middle East in hopes of joining a notorious al-Qaida branch. Shelton Thomas Bell was charged Thursday with two counts of conspiracy and attempting to provide material support to the terrorist group Ansar al Sharia, also known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
AQAP is the al-Qaida branch which successfully got would-be suicide bomber and Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab onboard a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam on Christmas Day in 2009. Abdulmutallab hoped to bring the plane down over Detroit, but the bomb sewn into his underwear failed to detonate.
Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born AQAP cleric, inspired several homegrown American terrorists through his radical online teachings. Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in September 2011.
According to the indictment, Bell and an unnamed juvenile engaged in physical fitness and firearms training to prepare for armed conflict. Bell also made video and audio recordings to solicit and recruit others to join him in jihad. In furtherance of their efforts to "promote the jihad," Bell and his accomplice undertook a night-time "mission" in which they "dressed in dark clothing, wore masks and gloves, wrapped their footwear in tape, and, caused significant damage to religious statues at the Chapel Hills Memorial Gardens Cemetery."
Bell said he was 'partaking in the training of jihad," actively seeking participation in jihad," and "looking for an active objective." He identified his target as "[n]ot the American people, just the flag and the Government." A woman identifying herself as Bell's mother told the Jacksonville Times Union that he had converted to Islam.
Bell and the unnamed accomplice leased a laptop computer to communicate with people after he traveled to the Middle East and bought "gauze pads, batteries, athletic tape, razors, and a computer storage device" as part of their plan. Bell then bought a one-way ticket for both him and his friend to fly to Tel Aviv, Israel. They made the trip last September but were denied entry. After going to Jordan, they reached out to people named Nidal and Sheik Yussef seeking help finding a way into Yemen. It is not clear when he returned to Jacksonville or why he never made it to Yemen. He has been in the county jail since January on an unrelated grand theft charge, a Jacksonville television station reports.
Bell faces a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted.