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Kenyan man charged in 9/11 style hijacking plot; trained as pilot in Philippines

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

A Kenyan man has been charged with plotting a Sept. 11-style hijacking attack in the U.S., and had allegedly prepared by obtaining pilot training in the Philippines, federal prosecutors said in court documents unsealed Wednesday.

Cholo Abdi Abdullah, a suspected operative of the al-Qaeda affiliate al Shabaab, had been in the custody of Philippine authorities on local charges before being transported Tuesday to the U.S., where he now faces six terror-related offenses.

Abdullah was set to make his first court appearance Wednesday in New York.

“This case, which involved a plot to use an aircraft to kill innocent victims, reminds us of the deadly threat that radical Islamic terrorists continue to pose to our nation,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers said.

Acting Manhattan U.S. attorney Audrey Strauss called the alleged scheme a “chilling callback to the horrific attacks” nearly two decades ago that killed almost 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Federal authorities did not identify the suspected target or its location in the U.S.

At the direction of a senior al Shabaab commander, who was responsible for planning a 2019 Nairobi hotel attack, prosecutors said Abdullah traveled to the Philippines in 2016 when he enrolled in a flight school for “the purpose of obtaining training for carrying out the 9/11-style attack.”

By 2019, according to court documents, Abdullah completed the training and obtained his pilot’s license.

Prosecutors said that attended the Flight School on various occasions and obtained pilot’s training, ultimately completing the tests necessary to obtain his pilot’s license.

During the training, Abdullah also research plans for a hijacking, including methods for breaching a cockpit door.

Abdullah also allegedly sought information “about the tallest building in a major U.S. city, and information about how to obtain a U.S. visa.”

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