Arrested in Kenya, the American was originally thought to be on his way to join an al-Qaida-affiliated organization in Somalia.
A former Army intelligence specialist accused of attempting to support a terror network in East Africa was given a seven-year sentence after pleading guilty in a Baltimore courtroom on Monday.
The former soldier, Craig Baxam, 26, was convicted on the charge of destroying records he thought could be used in a terrorism investigation, The Baltimore Sun reported on Monday. He destroyed his computer in an attempt to cover his tracks before flying to Africa in a bid to join the Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab.
Baxam traveled to Kenya after he was discharged from the military in 2011 and was arrested near the port city of Mombasa by suspicious local authorities after he boarded a bus for the northeastern town of Garissa, about 120 miles from the southern Somali border, where he planned to try to join the group.
The organization controlled much of southern Somalia, including the capital Mogadishu, until about two years ago when it was largely driven out of the sea-side capital. However, it has become resurgent and has carried out attacks in Mogadishu, targeting Somali politicians and U.N. offices.
More recently, they staged a deadly terrorist attack at a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, in September, in which at least 67 people died and many more were injured.
Prosecutors originally asserted Baxam, a Laurel, Maryland native, intended to join al-Shabaab, but he was charged “with attempting to provide material support and resources to the group,” according to a report by The Associated Press.
He left the U.S. from Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Dec. 20, 2011, arrived in London for a lengthy layover, then boarded a Virgin Atlantic Airbus bound for Nairobi.
Baxam joined the army in 2007 and was trained in intelligence and cryptology. He previously served in Iraq, returned home and then re-enlisted, when he was deployed to South Korea for one year beginning in August 2010.
Twisted fascination with Radicalism Developed in Korea
Prosecutors affidavit alleges that he converted to Islam after reading an Islamic website while serving in Korea, according to The Washington Post.
Baxam left the military in July 2011, which was a “month before his term was over and about a week after he had ‘secretly’ converted to Islam,” according to the Post. Baxam told agents that he discovered Islam while he was browsing the Internet and had no previous religious affiliation. An online article he read about the Islamic day of judgment “spoke to” him, authorities wrote in the complaint, and he read more.
Traveling to Somalia appealed to Baxam because he wanted to live in a country where he believed Sharia was the law of the land. He no longer believed he could live in the U.S., prosecutors say.
The only places that were acceptable, according to the affidavit, were Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, parts of Somalia controlled by al-Shabaab, and the southern Philippines. Ultimately, he chose Somalia.
Other Muslim nations would not have sufficed to his desires, except maybe for Saudi Arabia due to its strict adherence to Salafist law, but he wouldn’t have been able to get into or live in Saudi Arabia. Average Muslims nations aren’t in a state of jihad and are more moderate, such as Morocco or Turkey.
Baxam wanted a country under strict Muslim control — one where it would also be easy to get into the nation and melt into the countryside undetected. The fact that he was black — an African American — also limited some of his choices. Somalia was a suitable choice all around, especially since it had no border security.
Baxam was quoted saying he wanted to die “with a gun in my hand,” and that he would be happy to die defending Islam.
When told during interviews with FBI agents that al-Shabab encouraged beating people who were seen in the street during prayer time, Baxam allegedly replied that he thought such acts were “awesome.”
Baxam has told prosecutors he had no contacts for al-Shabaab in Somalia. And while the affidavit does not describe exactly how Baxam was found, it does say he was wary of searching for al-Shabab on his computer because he was “aware of the capabilities of the U.S. government.”
History of American Recruits Seeking Out Al-Shabaab
These days, al-Shabaab can’t be classified as a centralized terrorist outfit. The movement is made up of local clans and, internally, shifts alliances and tribal politics. While most of its rank-and-file fighters are motivated by their religious war against the Somali government, who formed an alliance with the Ethiopians back in 2006-07, who al-Shabaab also hates, senior leadership is affiliated with al Qaida and is thought to have trained in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The U.S. government designated al-Shabaab as a “foreign terrorist organization” back in 2008, given statements linking Somalia to al Qaida’s global operations, rampant suicide bombings and its penchant for beheading innocent civilians. In other words, the group offers something for everyone in a failed state, where terror is one of the only outlets for the armies of unemployed youth.
Americans began traveling to Somalia to join al-Shabaab in 2007, around the time the group stepped up its insurgency against Somalia’s transitional government and its Ethiopian supporters, who had invaded Somalia to drive out extremists over the New Year’s week of 2006-07. But Ethiopia’s military has long since withdrawn its forces.
These American recruits have received weapons training alongside those from other countries, including Britain, Australia, Sweden and Canada, and have used the training to fight against Ethiopian forces, African Union troops. Most of the American men training with al-Shabaab are believed to have been radicalized in the U.S., especially in Minneapolis, according to U.S. officials and various reports. The FBI alleges these young men have been recruited by al-Shabaab both on the Internet and in person.
Additionally, the group claimed three Americans took part in its assault on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi on September 21. The group named Ahmed Mohamed Isse of St. Paul, Minn., Abdifatah Osman Keenadiid of Minneapolis, and Mustafe Noorudiin of Kansas City, Mo., as attackers via the organization’s ever-changing Twitter feed. The group’s claims have not been verified by American law enforcement. In addition, other Twitter accounts claiming to be al-Shabaab have suggested other Americans were also involved.
Another American recruit from Daphne, Alabama, who was known as Omar Hammami and also as Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, or “the American,” died in southern Somalia in September after several months on the run after a falling out with the group’s top leader, the group reported. Hammami was known as the group’s rapper, after he promoted his videos on YouTube, preaching jihad in hip hop form.