By Wesley Bruer
An American man's efforts to become a suicide bomber for the Somali al Qaeda affiliate will end next week with an expected guilty plea.
Shaker Masri, 27, a U.S. citizen and Chicago resident, faced two counts of terror-related charges. He opted to plea in lieu of standing trial on September 13.
A close reading of the indictment and other court documents reveal how Masri's plot unfolded.
Masri is accused of conspiring to travel to Somalia from July to August 2010, where he intended to join Al-Shabaab and become a suicide bomber.
Through audio recordings, intercepted phone calls and physical surveillance, prosecutors collected overwhelming evidence that portrayed him as an unabashed Islamic radical bent on waging jihad and seeking martyrdom.
The most damning evidence was secured through a confidential source employed by the FBI since 2007 to assist in counter-terrorism investigations.
Court documents show the source, referred to in the indictment as "CS," has been paid between $40,000-$45,000 for services related to terror investigations as of July 2010.
"CS," an Arabic-speaking male with prior military training, met Masri at a book warehouse in Addison, Illinois. The warehouse was run by the suspect's employer, a nonprofit that provides free Quran translations from Arabic into English.
At the insistence of the FBI, a friendship developed between the two, and it was not long before Masri's extremist views to come to light.
In July 2010, the two men were discussing temporary employment over lunch when Masri revealed he had something "serious and secret" to discuss. When they left the restaurant, Masri drove "CS" to a park where he insisted they talk outside, leaving their phones behind in the car.
It was there that "CS" testified Masri first revealed his intention of committing terrorist acts. The suspect explained he needed to work for a few weeks to purchase a ticket, which would take him to either Afghanistan or Somalia to fight. Iraq was ruled out as too difficult to enter.
Travel routes were planned and scrapped a half a dozen times or so before Masri settled on Somalia, where he would train and fight with al-Muhajiroun, an outfit of Al-Shabaab that comprises foreign fighters. Djibouti was deemed a viable layover as Masri had a close friend, referred to in the indictment as "Individual A" who "knew big people" there.
"CS" offered to fund Masri's travels on one condition: he would be permitted to accompany him to Somalia.
Insisting that "CS" would satisfy "jihad of the soul" for funding his endeavor, he soon relented and agreed to guide his friend as he sought martyrdom. The entire trip, according to Masri, would cost them $7,000-$10,000.
Over the next few weeks, Masri and the "CS" met on multiple occasions, watched martyrdom videos and contemplated the safest way to travel without being detected.
"Individual A" accompanied them on one occasion. Wearing an earring, shaving his beard, and traveling during Ramadan when it was believed Mideast security would be slack, were all part of Masri's plan to avoid raising suspicions.
At one such meeting, Masri commented he had personally known Zachary Chesser, a 20-year old man arrested in Virginia in July 2010 for providing material support to Al-Shabaab and attempting to travel to Somalia to fight alongside the al Qaeda affiliate.
Intent on keeping a low-profile, Masri planned a "sudden" departure and aimed to avoid the mistakes Chesser made such as contacting Shabaab members in Somalia from the U.S.
All the while, investigators were intercepting phone calls between Masri and a woman in Britain, referred to in the indictment as "Individual B," whom the suspect met online and had developed a romantic relationship with.
The two discussed marriage and plans to see each other in London. Then things became complicated once "Individual B" became aware of Masri's plans.
Speaking in recorded conversations in both English and Arabic, the two also spoke in code to conceal the suspect's intentions, according to government prosecutors.
"Are you still going to accomplish your dream? Are you still going to study?" Individual B asked.
Masri affirmed to which "Individual B" replied, "Do you know, like, how much this will affect me? Do you even realize?" "Individual B" insisted Masri was only thinking of the rewards and benefits he would receive from "studying," and questioned his motives for marriage as she felt he only used her for her "contacts."
Plans to travel through London to see "Individual B" on the way to Somalia were abandoned and the two exchanged final phone calls where they said their final goodbyes.
Shortly after, Masri and "CS" confirmed travel plans to fly from Chicago to Los Angeles, and would drive to Mexico where they intended to make martyrdom videos in preparation for their final destiny.
Posing as international businessmen in the gold trading business, for which "CS" had a license for, the two would then fly to Amman, Jordan with a layover in Dubai.
It would be in Amman where Masri would say his final farewell to his brother. When asked how they planned to get from Jordan to Somalia, Masri replied he was not sure and that they would "put their faith in God."
Clearly, Masri lacked the high-level contacts that would safely facilitate his journey to East Africa. But what he lacked in contacts, he made up for in enthusiasm and commitment to extremist views.
When asked what to expect in Somalia, Masri predicted "CS" would be assigned to weapons training because of his past military experience.
As for himself, Masri expected to play a scholarly role but explained his goal in becoming a suicide bomber.
"I will not stay idle. I wish to know how the explosive belt is made. I will wear one and I will not take it off," Masri said.
On July 29, 2010, "CS" picked up Masri and the men returned to "CS'" house.
There, they purchased two one-way flights from Chicago to Los Angeles. Masri was arrested on August 4, 2010, the same day their flight was booked.
He was indicted on September 29, 2010 for attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group along with concealing the source of material intended to be used in preparation for and carrying out an attack with a weapon of mass destruction. He faces up to 15 years in prison for each count.