TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 20-year-old man accused of planning a suicide attack at Fort Riley was arrested Friday while trying to arm what he thought was a 1,000-pound bomb near the Kansas military base as part of a plot to support the Islamic State group, federal prosecutors said.
John T. Booker Jr., of Topeka, made his court appearance later Friday in Topeka. Prosecutors allege that he told an FBI informant that he wanted to kill Americans and engage in violent jihad on behalf of the terrorist group. Court documents allege he told the informant that attack was justified because the Quran “says to kill your enemies wherever they are.”
“It was alleged that he planned to pull the trigger of the explosives himself so that he would die in the explosion,” U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said during a news conference Friday morning. “He told an individual that detonating a suicide bomb was his No. 1 aspiration because he couldn’t be captured and all the evidence would be destroyed and he would be guaranteed to hit his target.”
Grissom said Booker was arrested without incident near Manhattan, a city that borders Fort Riley about 100 miles west of Kansas City. The FBI said there was no breach at the base.
The soft-spoken Booker answered basic questions and corrected the spelling of his alias, Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, during the hearing Friday afternoon in federal court in Topeka. Prosecutors said they planned to take their case to a grand jury next week.
Booker’s public defender, Kirk Redmond, declined comment following the hearing.
Booker was recruited to join the Army in February 2014, but came to the attention of federal investigators after posting messages on Facebook. The FBI said a post on March 19, 2014, read: “Getting ready to be killed in jihad is a HUGE adrenaline rush! I am so nervous. NOT because I’m scared to die but I am eager to meet my lord.” His enlistment was terminated a few days later at the request of the Army Criminal Investigation Command, according to the Army.
As the suspect’s father, John T. Booker Sr., placed a no-trespassing sin in front of his ranch home on a quiet tree-lined Topeka street, he said his son moved out after graduating from high school about two years ago. Booker Sr., an Army veteran who served in Desert storm, said he and his son had only talked about four times in the past year. He said he is Methodist, his wife is Catholic and that he knew nothing about his son’s religious beliefs.
“I did everything that a father should do: I took him to school; I took him to doctor’s appointments; I made sure he graduated. But once kids turn 18 and graduate, parents have no control over them,” said Booker Sr. “The one statement that I will make is that I’m glad that he was arrested and that no one got hurt.”
Prosecutors said Booker started meeting with the FBI informant in October. He allegedly told the informant he wanted to make a video threatening Americans and warning them to get their relatives and friends to quit the military. He said his intent was to “scare this country” and to tell the people that, “we will be coming after American soldiers in the streets … we will be picking them off one by one,” according to the court documents.
Booker is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to damage property by means of an explosive, and attempting to provide material support to the terrorist group. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
Grissom declined to take questions during the Friday morning news conference. His spokesman didn’t immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press asking about Booker’s religious background and when he may have become radicalized.
The FBI has focused attention in the last year on individuals who profess allegiance to the Islamic State and who either make plans to fight alongside jihadists in Syria or commit acts of violence in the United States. Other cases have involved current or former service members; last month, a U.S. Army National Guard soldier was charged in Illinois after trying to fly to Egypt.
“We face a continued threat from individuals within our own borders who may be motivated by a variety of reasons,” Grissom said during the news conference. “Anyone who tries to harm this nation and its people will be brought to justice.”
TOPEKA (KSNT) – Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom of the District of Kansas and Special Agent in Charge Eric K. Jackson of the FBI’s Kansas City Division announced that a Topeka man has been charged in federal court with attempting to detonate a vehicle bomb at Fort Riley military base near Manhattan. The defendant was arrested as part of an FBI investigation, and the device used by the defendant was, in fact, inert.
Twenty-year-old John T. Booker Jr. of Topeka was charged in a criminal complaint unsealed Friday with one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction (explosives), one count of attempting to damage property by means of an explosive and one count of attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization. Booker is expected to make an initial appearance this afternoon before U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree of the District of Kansas in federal court in Topeka.
Booker was a 2012 graduate of Topeka West High School. He was arrested Friday morning near Manhattan, as he completed his final preparations to detonate a vehicle bomb targeting U.S. military personnel.
RELATED LINK | Criminal Complaint
“As alleged in the complaint, John Booker attempted to attack U.S. military personnel on U.S. soil purportedly in the name of ISIL,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “Thanks to the efforts of the law enforcement community, we were able to safely disrupt this threat to the brave men and women who serve our country. Protecting American lives by identifying and bringing to justice those who wish to harm U.S. citizens remains the National Security Division’s number one priority.”
“We face a continued threat from individuals within our own borders who may be motivated by a variety of causes,” said U.S. Attorney Grissom. “Anyone who seeks to harm this nation and its people will be brought to justice.”
“I want to assure the public there was never any breach of Fort Riley Military Base, nor was the safety or the security of the base or its personnel ever at risk,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Jackson. “Recently the Command Staff at Fort Riley has been working hand in hand with law enforcement to ensure the utmost security and protection for the men and women who serve our country, and the surrounding community that supports the base.”
Booker is alleged to have spent months discussing multiple plans before deciding on a plan that involved the execution of a suicide bombing mission.
The complaint alleges Booker told another person “that detonating a suicide bomb is his number one aspiration because he couldn’t be captured, all evidence would be destroyed, and he would be guaranteed to hit his target.” Booker identified Fort Riley as a good target, “because the post is famous and there are a lot of soldiers stationed there,” the complaint alleges.
It is alleged that since March 2015, Booker plotted to construct an explosive device for an attack on American soil. It is alleged he repeatedly stated that he desired to engage in violent jihad on behalf of ISIL. Over a period of months, he took a series of actions to advance his plot. As alleged in the complaint, Booker assisted in acquiring components for a vehicle bomb, produced a propaganda video, rented a storage locker to store components for the explosive device, identified Fort Riley as the target and talked about his commitment to trigger the device himself and become a martyr.
FBI Evidence Response Teams are executing search warrants related to the case.
If convicted, Booker would face a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Later in the day, officials at the military post issued the following statement: “Today’s arrest at no time posed a danger to military personnel or to the public. This event does emphasize the continued and ongoing threat to our nation’s security and the need for all of us to remain vigilant. Our partnerships with the Department of Justice, FBI and other federal and state agencies are force multipliers and help us ensure the safety and security of all Soldiers and our Big Red One family—all those who live, work and play at Fort Riley.”
Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback released a statement Friday.
“I appreciate the diligence of the FBI and members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, including the Kansas Highway Patrol and Kansas Bureau of Investigation, for working together to successfully thwart this potential attack. The state has worked hard to enhance the collaborative efforts of local, state and federal partners in matters of homeland security and to protect Kansans.
“The investigation is ongoing and today’s arrest serves as a reminder that even here in America’s heartland we must remain vigilant against threats to our nation.”
Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins’ also released a statement on Friday.
“I was shocked to hear a Topekan was arrested today for allegedly plotting to bomb Fort Riley on behalf of ISIL. While he may reside in Topeka, his actions stand in stark contrast to the attitude of support for our military of everyday Kansans. I commend the counterterrorism and law enforcement officials for their efforts. This is a close to home reminder that we must remain vigilant against terrorism, and Congress must do everything it can to eliminate and destroy ISIL.”
KSNT News will update as this story develops.