A Wyoming college student has been charged with providing material support to a terrorist group after acknowledging to federal agents in Texas that he was trying to send military equipment to a Somali group that the U.S. government has designated as a terrorist organization, officials said yesterday.
The student, Mark Robert Walker, 18, also told agents that he was trying to arrange travel to Somalia to fight alongside the al-Ittihad al-Islamiya group, which the U.S. government said is allied with al Qaeda, according to a document filed in federal court in El Paso.
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FBI agents began a probe of Walker on Oct. 28, after his roommate at Wyoming Technical College called authorities to say Walker had been using his computer to communicate with terrorists. Walker fled Wyoming to Mexico after his roommate confronted him, according to an affidavit filed by Mark Kaminsky, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent. Agents later found that Walker, using the name Abdullah, was the administrator of a "jihadist" Web site, the affidavit said.
Agents found that on the Web site and in e-mail communications with a man named Khalid, Walker had expressed admiration for terrorists and said he wanted to leave for Somalia to join in jihad, the affidavit said. Walker also expressed a desire to buy weapons, ammunition, night-vision goggles and bulletproof vests for the Somali fighters, it said.
The FBI placed Walker's name on a watch list, and last Saturday ICE agents detained him after he tried to enter the United States from Mexico at a border crossing near El Paso. He agreed to talk to agents and told them of his activities, after which he was arrested, the ICE affidavit said.
Walker had become interested in Islam at a mosque in his home town of Rochester, N.Y., officials said. "He seems like a lost guy who got obsessed with jihad," one official familiar with the case said.
Western intelligence agencies have suspected al-Ittihad al-Islamiya of involvement in a number of terrorist plots in East Africa, including the 2002 suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya, in which 16 people were killed.