A former U.S. Army veteran who had done earlier tours in Iraq and South Korea faced charges Monday that he had tried to enlist with Somalia's al-Shabab terrorist group. Craig Benedict Baxam, a 24-year-old Army vet trained in intelligence and cryptology, allegedly flew to Africa to join up with al-Shabab and provide the group with material support, according to the charges filed against him in a Greenbelt, Md., courtroom.
Baxam had been "surfing the Internet from his Army base in South Korea last summer when he came across an Islamic religious website," the Baltimore Sun's Matthew Hay Brown reported Tuesday. Baxam--who comes from Laurel, Md.--returned to his home state after he'd secretly converted to Islam at the end of his deployment in South Korea. At that point, Brown writes, he "began to make plans to live out his life in a land governed by Sharia law. He would never make it."
Late last month, Baxam cashed in his $3500 Army retirement savings and bought a plane ticket to Kenya. Soon after his arrival, he was pulled off a bus near Mombasa after a seat-mate had inquired about his plans. Kenyan police turned over Baxam to the FBI office in Nairobi, and he "was arrested upon his return to Maryland last week," Brown wrote.
"In an affidavit filed earlier Monday, FBI Special Agent John B. Phillips III said Baxam considered it his duty to undertake his hijra, or migration to a Muslim land," Brown wrote. "Phillips said Baxam was carrying between $600 and $700 when he was pulled off a bus and arrested outside Mombasa, Kenya. He said Baxam planned to offer the money to al-Shabaab, to join the group and to take up arms to defend it from the United States, if necessary."
Baxam, a 2005 graduate of Laurel High School, "joined the Army in 2007 and completed eight months of advanced training in cryptology and intelligence at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas," Brown wrote. He deployed to Iraq in 2008, and to South Korea in 2010 for a one-year tour.
It was in Korea only "days before his separation from the Army" that Baxam secretly converted to Islam, Brown wrote. "He was afraid to search for al-Shabaab from his home computer, Phillips said, 'because he is aware of the capabilities of the United States government,' " Brown wrote. Before heading to Baltimore airport Dec. 20, Baxam destroyed his computer, Phillips said.
At his arraignment hearing Monday, Baxam, dressed in a "white robe, a thick black beard and sandals," replied "yes" to the judge's questions whether he understood the charge against him, Brown said. He could face a maximum sentence of 15 years.
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