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Missouri man sentenced to prison for planned terrorist attack on Kansas City

Judge's gavel. (Staff Sgt. Nicholas Rau/U.S. Air Force)

A Missouri man has been sentenced to 19 years in federal prison for his role in a plot to launch a terrorist attack with people he believed to be members of ISIS but were actually undercover FBI employees, the U.S. Department of Justice announced in a news release.

The sentencing hearing was held Wednesday after Robert Lorenzo Hester Jr., 28, pleaded guilty last fall in U.S. District Court in Kansas City to attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

The Columbia man was arrested and charged in February 2017 following a months-long sting operation led by the FBI.

According to the plea agreement, the FBI in 2016 was made aware of social media posts in which Hester expressed his dislike of the United States and his adherence to radical Islamic theology and began communicating with Hester online and eventually in person.

In meetings, FBI personnel, posing as an Islamic State operative, told Hester an attack was being planned that would involve multiple operatives, deploy bombs, guns and mass casualties. Prosecutors stated Hester indicated he was ready and willing to assist in their made-up “plot.” At their request, Hester allegedly bought items that he believed were to be used in constructing bombs.

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Throughout the investigation, prosecutors said Hester “expressed his interest in and exhibited his willingness to commit violence in support and on behalf of ISIS.”

As part of the sting operation, an undercover FBI employee told Hester that the attacks were planned for Presidents Day in Kansas City. Hester expressed approval, a plea agreement stated, and asked whether supplies were needed. He said he would pick some items up, and added it felt “good to help strike back at the true terrorist.”

Hester later met with a second undercover employee at a storage facility they were scouting for holding weapons. Soon after, he was arrested.

In September, Hester pleaded guilty to the charge in federal court in connection to the 2017 incident. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Greg Kays sentenced Hester to 236 months — over 19 years — in prison without parole.

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© 2020 The Kansas City Star