Missouri man charged with trying to plan President’s Day terrorist attack

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri native who said he wanted to participate in a terrorist attack that would cause many deaths and injuries is charged with helping plan a Presidents Day attack on buses, trains and a train station in Kansas City, federal officials said Tuesday.

Robert Lorenzo Hester Jr., 25, a Missouri-born U.S. citizen from Columbia, was charged in federal court in Kansas City with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. He was arrested Friday when he arrived at a meeting with what he thought was an Islamic State sympathizer who was an undercover FBI agent. The arrest was made public Tuesday after Hester made his first court appearance, during which a judge ordered him to remain in custody. A detention hearing was scheduled for Friday.

Online court records didn’t list an attorney for Hester on Tuesday.

A criminal complaint said federal officials began investigating Hester in August 2016 after receiving tips about social media posts in which he said he had converted to Islam and expressed hatred for the United States and a tendency toward violence. Undercover FBI agents contacted Hester first online and then in several face-to-face meetings to discuss whether he wanted to participate in a terrorist attack.

During those contacts, Hester “expressed his interest in and exhibited his willingness to commit violence in support of a foreign terrorist organization,” according to the complaint. Hester, a married father of two children who served less than a year in the U.S. Army, also provided materials such as roofing nails, batteries and other items that he was told would be used to build bombs for the attack, the complaint said. He also was shown weapons and was told several backpacks containing explosives would be placed in different locations in Kansas City.

The undercover agent told Hester the supposed terrorist organization was planning on “killing a lot of people” in an attack “10 times more” severe than the Boston Marathon attack, according to the complaint. Hester approved of the plans and rejected the undercover agent’s offer to walk away if he didn’t want to participate, the complaint said.

Hester communicated five times in early February with an undercover employee via an encrypted messaging app, saying he was “happy to be part” of the plan and predicting the day of the attack would be “a good day for Muslims,” according to the complaint.

On Feb. 17, Hester met with another undercover employee and provided more nails before they went to a storage facility, where Hester believed the components would be stored, the complaint said. He was arrested shortly thereafter.

On Oct. 3, 2016, Hester was arrested in Columbia in an unrelated case after he allegedly threw a knife through a store window and threatened an employee during an argument with his wife. He pleaded guilty to one count of felony property damage and one count of unlawful use of a weapon and was released on his own recognizance awaiting sentencing, which was scheduled for March.

 

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