FilAms shocked that Kenyan man in 9/11 plot got pilot’s license in the PHL

Cholo Abdi Abdullah is charged with plotting attack reminiscent of 9/11. Social media photo

Filipino Americans were shocked to learn that a Kenyan national, who was planning a 9/11-style attack against the U.S., had obtained a pilot’s license in the Philippines.

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies announced on December 16 the unsealing of an indictment charging Cholo Abdi Abdullah, 30, with six counts of terrorism-related offenses, “including conspiring to hijack aircraft in order to conduct a 9/11-style attack in the United States.” They alleged that Abdullah, an operative of the African terror organization Al- Shabaab, obtained pilot training in the Philippines in preparation for the attack.

He was arrested in July 2019 in the Philippines, and was subsequently transferred on December 15, 2020, to the custody of U.S. law enforcement for prosecution on the charges. He was expected to be presented the following day before Magistrate Judge Robert W. Lehrburger in Manhattan federal court.  

According to a press statement issued by the following — Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, John C. Demers, the Assistant Attorney General for National Security, William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and Dermot Shea, the Commissioner of the Police Department for the City of New York (“NYPD”) – Abdullah “obtained pilot training in the Philippines” preparing to hijack a commercial aircraft and crash it into a building in the United States.

“This (is a) chilling callback to the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001,” it says. The plot was detected before it could be carried out.

Beginning in 2016, according to the statement, Abdullah “traveled to the Philippines and enrolled in a flight school there (the “Flight School”), for the purpose of obtaining training for carrying out the 9/11-style attack.  Between 2017 and 2019, Abdullah attended the Flight School on various occasions and obtained pilot’s training, ultimately completing the tests necessary to obtain his pilot’s license.”

Strauss, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, praised the “outstanding efforts” of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which principally consists of agents from the FBI and detectives from the NYPD.  She also thanked several law enforcement and legal agencies in Kenya and the Philippines. In the Philippines, she made special mention of the assistance provided by the  Philippine National Police; the Philippine Department of Justice; the Joint Terrorism Financial Investigations Group-Philippines; and the Philippine Bureau of Immigration.

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. said: “Nearly 20 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there are those who remain determined to conduct terror attacks against U.S. citizens. Abdullah, we allege, is one of them. He obtained a pilot’s license overseas, learning how to hijack an aircraft for the purpose of causing a mass-casualty incident within our borders.”

He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, and a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison. 

FilAms, who are following the news, such as makeup artist Victor Palmos, expressed shock that a 9/11 style plot was being hatched and that the Philippines became a center of interest.

“So shocking, I watched this on TV,” he said. He believes though that Abdullah chose to study in the Philippines not because of any nefarious intent but because of cost. “It is cheap compared to other countries.”

What is bothersome to retired schoolteacher Pacita Ros is whether the suspect had expanded his terror network and recruited Filipinos.

“I hope this man hadn’t found disgruntled or disillusioned folks to join him in his mission,” she told The FilAm.

She commended Philippine law enforcement agencies that tracked down Abdullah and reported him to the U.S. “I’m happy to note that our intel is working.”

Army veteran Apollo Bala is disappointed that an individual with links to a terror group managed to enter the Philippines undetected.

He said, “The Philippines should screen visiting foreigners thoroughly especially those who come from countries that support or sponsor terrorism.”

This is not the first time the Philippines played a major background role in terror incidents in the U.S. Ramzi Yousef, a key plotter in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in NYC, fled to the Philippines and was involved in the deadly explosion of a bomb he planted on a Philippine Airlines flight to Tokyo in December 1994.

The PAL bombing was a trial run for various schemes, one of which involved flying a jet into CIA headquarters in Virginia. Yousef is a nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, believed to be the mastermind of 9/11.

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© The FilAm 2020

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