A 20-year-old Kansas man named John T. Booker Jr., who also went by the name Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, was arrested Friday while making final preparations for a 1,000-pound suicide car bomb attack on Ft. Riley, Kansas.
The FBI had been monitoring Booker for quite some time, using undercover informants, and says there was no real danger of him actually detonating a live explosive. He has been charged with crimes that include attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.
Booker had previously attempted to enlist in the Army with the goal of executing an insider attack. Booker boasted copiously on Facebook of his sympathies for Islamist terrorists. “I’m going to wage jihad and hopes [sic] that i die” and “Getting ready to be killed in a jihad is a HUGE adrenaline rush!!” are among the online comments from Booker presented by CNN. He posted some of these comments less than a month before he was due to begin basic training.
The Army wisely canceled his enlistment based on these Facebook posts, and the FBI came around to interview him, at which point he admitted he had “enlisted in the United States Army with the intent to commit an insider attack like Major Nidal Hasan.” The FBI kept tabs on him with informants as he began cooking up his car-bomb plot, which included a martyrdom video he filmed at Freedom Park near Fort Riley, in which he declared his loyalty to ISIS mastermind Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The Associated Press reports that Booker grew interested in Islam while in high school, where he was also a member of the Junior ROTC. He told one of the FBI informants he was unpopular at his mosque because he expressed support for al-Qaeda. The imam of the mosque said that Booker “liked to get into debates with other people in the Islamic center about philosophical differences within Islam,” but would have been banned if he had openly expressed terrorist sympathies.
His high-school friends recall him as being “loud” and “a little strange,” while another member of the mosque described him as “a teenager needing some guidance.” He had reportedly been diagnosed with bipolar disorder; according to the imam, Booker said he stopped taking his medication a few days before he was arrested, in part because of its expense. He also quit his job at Wal-Mart around that time, a job at which he asked fellow employees to call him “Muhammad.”
The New York Times chronicles the final days of Booker’s bomb plot:
On Friday morning, the authorities said, the informants met Mr. Booker in Junction City, Kan., which is west of Topeka and near Fort Riley, in a van in which they had supposedly built the bomb. One informant showed Mr. Booker how to arm the device, which was actually inert, the complaint said. The other informant then drove Mr. Booker to what he said was a little-used gate that would let them enter Fort Riley secretly. There, F.B.I. agents arrested Mr. Booker without incident at around 9 a.m.
A second man, 28-year-old Alexander Blair of Topeka, was also arrested and charged with failing to report a felony on Friday, with authorities charging that he “shared Mr. Booker’s extremist views, knew about his plot and gave him money to rent a storage locker,” according to the NYT. Booker has entered a not-guilty plea.