By Carol Cratty
A Chicago man who planned to travel to Somalia to fight for a terrorist group pleaded guilty on Monday to terrorism-related charges.
Shaker Masri, a 28-year old U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support for Al-Shabaab, a group he knew the United States had designated as a foreign terrorist organization, according to prosecutors.
In his plea agreement, Masri said that on July 19, 2010, he told an associate he "wanted to travel to a conflict zone to engage in jihadist fighting" and that he had the choice of going to Afghanistan to help al Qaeda or travel to Somalia to aid Al-Shabaab. Masri told his associate he had decided to go to Somalia but he needed money.
The associate - who was actually a source assisting law enforcement - said he would help Masri but insisted on going to join Al-Shabaab as well. Masri agreed, according to the plea agreement.
Over several weeks Masri and his associate worked on their travel plans including "how to conceal their departure, the financial costs of the journey, the necessity of supplies, and the weapons they would need to acquire in Somalia."
Masri explained that they would be traveling to a part of southern Somalia that was controlled by Al-Shabaab and said "he expected that they would be placed with a brigade of al-Shabaab's militia comprised of foreign fighters."
According to the plea agreement, Masri said to avoid suspicion they should not travel directly to East Africa. Instead Masri decided on a route through California, Mexico, and then a "Latin or South American country that did not work with United States' law enforcement" and then on to East Africa. Masri told his associate that once they left for Somalia they would be "wanted men."
Masri also told his associate that he needed to get rid of his laptop because it had information that could be incriminating, and buy a new one.
In late July Masri and the man he believed to be his co-conspirator purchased one-way tickets to California to begin their circuitous journey. On August 3, 2010 - the day before their scheduled departure - Masri and his associate drove to a liquor store where the associate allegedly picked up $18,000 to fund their trip. Next they went to a store to buy a new laptop. Masri was arrested when he left the store.
Earlier in his case Masri also was charged with attempting or conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction outside the United States. A criminal complaint charged he wanted to wear a suicide vest and become a martyr with an attack on "infidels." Under the terms of the plea agreement that charge was dropped.
Masri is scheduled to be sentenced on October 16, and his plea agreement calls for a sentence of nine years and 10 months in prison on the conspiracy to provide material support charge.