Houston case alleges suspect planned to kill on behalf of al-Qaida
An American who is accused of guarding a flight attendant who later was murdered by radical Muslims in Somalia, and learning how to make IEDs at a compound used by al-Qaida there, is facing a court hearing Tuesday in Houston after his arrest by anti-terrorism experts and his return to the U.S.
The case is pending against Daniel Joseph Maldonado, aka Daniel Aljughaifi, 28, formerly of Houston, who was named in the government charges filed by U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle in Houston.
"Any who seek to aid terrorists in their mission to threaten our national security will be held to account for such serious criminal conduct," DeGabrielle said.
Maldonado was returned to the U.S. just days ago after he was captured by members of the Kenyan military on Jan. 21 as he fled Somalia to avoid the military conflict between Ethiopian and Somalian forces, according to prosecutors.
Being expelled by Kenyan authorities, he was turned over to American authorities, then flown to Houston in the company of special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Already being described as another John Walker Lindh, he is alleged to have traveled on his own to Somalia in late 2006 to join the Islamic Courts Union and elements of al-Qaida to fight "jihad" in Somalia. The ICU is blamed for the suicide bombers and vehicles containing improvised explosive devices just weeks earlier that targeted the leadership of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government, according to federal documents.
"While in Somalia, Maldonado was … provided an AK-47, equipped with military combat uniforms and boots in Mogadishu, and participated in training camps in Kismaayo and Jilib, Somalia," prosecutors said. "The camps included physical fitness, firearms and explosives training all in preparation to go to the front to fight for the ICU."
The complaint alleges Maldonado studied at the training camps with al-Qaida members and expressed his willingness go to the front and fight, and become a suicide bomber if he was wounded.
The criminal complaint said the call for fighters on behalf of Somalia's Islamic militants came from Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy, on Jan. 5. "Launch ambushes, land mines, raids and suicidal combats until you consume them as the lions and eat their prey," he said in a taped message on the Internet.
During interviews in Somalia, Maldonado said he would have "no problem" killing Americans and apostate Muslims, and that he was sympathetic to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S.
"Maldonado recalled that while in Kismaayo he participated in the interrogation of a spy. The spy, a flight attendant who had a cell phone camera, was observed taking pictures of jihadis as they arrived by airplane in Kismaayo," federal agents reported. "The flight attendant was forcibly taken to a house … where he was beaten and slapped. Maldonado helped guard and interrogate the flight attendant because they both spoke English. … Maldonado admitted he was later informed that the flight attendant had been killed."
"This case represents the first criminal prosecution of an American suspected of joining forces with Islamic extremist fighters in Somalia," said Kenneth L. Wainstein, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department's National Security Division.
"The prosecution of Mr. Maldonado demonstrates the scope of our laws and serves as a warning to others who travel overseas to wage violent jihad," Wainstein said.