US man arrested in suicide bomb plot at Kansas military base
Federal agents snared an alleged would-be suicide bomber with Islamic State sympathies who was bent on attacking a major US military base Friday, in a sting operation worthy of a Hollywood thriller.
John T. Booker Jr, a US citizen, was arrested without incident outside Fort Riley, the sprawling Kansas home of the US Army’s storied 1st Infantry Division.
The 20-year-old was due to appear in federal court in the state capital Topeka later on three charges, including “attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.”
“Anyone who seeks to harm this nation and its people will be brought to justice,” US Attorney Barry Grissom, the chief federal prosecutor in Kansas, told reporters in Kansas City.
Booker — a failed US army recruit who has been on the FBI’s radar for the past year — was the latest terror suspect to be snared on American soil in an undercover sting operation.
His arrest also came eight days after the arrest in New York of two women who were unaware they had been sharing alleged bomb-plot plans with an FBI undercover agent.
It also came two days after the arrest in Chicago of a Wisconsin man accused of travelling to Turkey in hopes of joining Islamic State fighters in Syria.
In a 2014 report, Human Rights Watch questioned counterterrorism sting operations that involve US law enforcement “effectively participating in developing terrorism plots.”
While such operations may smack of entrapment, the group said “no claim of entrapment has been successful in a US federal terrorism case to date.”
Booker was apprehended in the morning hours “as he made his final preparations for his planned assault” on Fort Riley, Grissom said.
“Unbeknownst to him, the materials that were used to make up this bomb were inert,” the prosecutor added.
“It is alleged that he planned to pull the trigger of the explosives himself so that he would die in the explosion,” Grissom said, adding that his “number one aspiration” was to be a suicide bomber.
Booker had his sights on Fort Riley “because the post is famous and there are a lot of soldiers stationed there,” the prosecutor said.
The sprawling US Army base dates back to the 19th century, when it was a hub for US cavalry defending settlers from Indian attack on the Great Plains.
Today, it serves as the headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division, which is advising Iraqi security forces in their fight against Islamic State insurgents.
According to court documents, Booker — a Topeka high school graduate who coincidentally has the same name as a Chuck Norris movie character — first came to the FBI’s attention in March 2014 when he sought to join the US army.
He was questioned by FBI agents over Facebook posts in which he allegedly stated that “getting ready to be killed in jihad is a HUGE adrenaline rush.”
Denied entry into the military, Booker made contact in October with an FBI “confidential human source” to whom he confided his desire to fight on behalf of Islamic State militants, the court documents claimed.
Last month, Booker was introduced to an FBI informant posing as a high-ranking sheikh planning terrorist attacks in the United States,” to whom he confided a wish to kill US troops with a truck bomb, prosecutors said.
Together, the trio made a video in which Booker allegedly pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and declared it was “halal,” or lawful, to kill American military personnel.
The two informants then assembled the supposed 1,000-pound (450-kilogram) “bomb” that Booker would detonate, using inert materials stashed in a storage warehouse, after which Booker drove with one of the informants to Fort Riley on Friday to find a way inside the base.
“While Booker was making final connections to arm the inert (bomb) at the gate, he was taken into custody without incident by members of the FBI,” the court documents stated.
At no time was security at Fort Riley breached, or its personnel in danger, said Eric Jackson, the FBI’s chief agent for the state of Kansas.
Besides lending support to the Islamic State, Booker faces charges of attempting to detonate a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to destroy property.
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