Maalik Jones pled guilty today to conspiring to provide material support to al Shabaab, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization based in Somalia, conspiring to receive military training from al Shabaab, and carrying and using an AK-47 machine gun, rocket-propelled grenades, and other destructive devices in furtherance of his support for al Shabaab. In 2011, Jones, a United States citizen, traveled to Somalia, where he took up arms and provided military support to al Shabaab for approximately four years.
Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said: “As he admitted in court today, Maalik Jones traveled to Somalia, was trained by al Shabaab in the use of an AK-47 and rocket-propelled grenades, and took up arms for four years as a terrorist fighter. For his allegiance to this lawless, terrorist organization that vows to destroy America and its values, Maalik Jones been held to account in an American court of law. All that is left is for him to be sentenced for his crimes.”
Acting Assistant Attorney General Dana J. Boente said: “Jones pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to al Shabaab, by traveling abroad to join and fight on behalf of the foreign terrorist organization for four years. I want to thank the many prosecutors, agents, and analysts who made this result possible.”
According to the Complaint, the Indictment, the Superseding Information, and statements made in court proceedings, including today’s guilty plea:
In February 2008, the U.S. Department of State designated al Shabaab as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Al Shabaab has used violent means – including targeted assassinations of civilians and journalists, and the use of improvised explosive devices, rockets, mortars, and automatic weapons – to, among other things, destabilize the government of Somalia, quell the Somali population, and force the withdrawal of foreign troops in Somalia. A former leader of al Shabaab, whose exhortations were echoed by the leadership of al Qaeda, called for foreign fighters to join al Shabaab in a “holy war” in Somalia. As a result of al Shabaab’s recruitment efforts, men from other countries – including the U.S. – have traveled to Somalia to engage in violent jihad.
Since al Shabaab’s designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in February 2008, it has made several public statements demonstrating its intent to harm U.S. interests. For example, in or about April 2008, al Shabaab released a statement declaring a campaign against the U.S. Similarly, after an al Shabaab member was killed in May 2008, al Shabaab leaders announced that the mujahideen would “hunt the U.S. government” and that governments supporting the U.S. and Ethiopia should keep their citizens out of Somalia. In April 2009, al Shabaab claimed responsibility for mortar attacks against a U.S. congressman who had been visiting Somalia, and in February 2012, the then-Emir of al Shabaab swore allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Emir of al Qaeda, stating that al Shabaab “will hereby merge into al Qa’ida.”
Al Shabaab also maintains a specialized fighting force, known as Jaysh Ayman, that is responsible for carrying out commando-style attacks and cross-border raids in which fighters, among other things, travel across the land border between Somalia and Kenya to target individuals and conduct attacks against civilian and military targets in Kenya. Among the attacks executed by Jaysh Ayman fighters are: (i) a June 16, 2014, attack in which al Shabaab fighters opened fire in a hotel bar in Mpekatoni, Kenya, killing approximately 40 people; (ii) a July 2014 attack in Hindi, Kenya, in which approximately 12 al Shabaab fighters opened fire at a trading center and set fire to government buildings and a church, killing nine people; and (iii) a June 14, 2015, attack in which al Shabaab fighters ambushed a Kenyan Defense Force base in Lamu County, Kenya, using various weapons, including AK-47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades and killing two Kenyan Defense Force soldiers (the “Lamu Attack”).
In or about July 2011, JONES left Baltimore, Maryland, with the intent to join al Shabaab in Somalia. JONES traveled to New York City, from where he flew via commercial aircraft to Kenya, with stopovers in Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. After arriving in Kenya, JONES traveled by land from Kenya to Somalia, which is a common travel route for foreign fighters traveling to Somalia to join al Shabaab.
In Somalia, JONES joined al Shabaab and was a member of the terrorist organization for approximately four years. During this time, JONES trained, worked, and fought with al Shabaab in Somalia. Among other things, JONES received three months of military training at an al Shabaab training camp, where he learned, among other things, how to operate an AK-47 assault rifle and rocket-propelled grenades. Upon completion of this training, JONES also was assigned to al Shabaab’s specialized fighting force, Jaysh Ayman, and participated in combat against soldiers of the Kenyan government on behalf of al Shabaab.
In particular, after joining Jaysh Ayman, JONES and his Jaysh Ayman unit participated in a battle in Afmadow, Somalia, against Kenyan government soldiers. JONES, armed with an AK-47 rifle, engaged in the fighting until he was injured by a missile and then hospitalized. After his release from the hospital, JONES returned to his service with al Shabaab and, in particular, Jaysh Ayman.
JONES has appeared with other al Shabaab fighters in videos that were recovered from an al Shabaab fighter who participated in and was killed during the aforementioned Lamu Attack. In one of the videos, JONES possessed a firearm, and is seen with several al Shabaab fighters. The al Shabaab fighters are depicted greeting each other, hugging each other, and carrying firearms.
On or about December 7, 2015, JONES was taken into custody by Somali authorities while he was attempting to procure a boat to depart Somalia for Yemen.
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JONES, 32, a United States citizen who resided in Maryland until 2011, pled guilty to one count of conspiring to provide material support to al Shabaab; one count of conspiring to receive military training from a designated foreign terrorist organization; and one count of possessing, carrying, and using a machine gun and other destructive devices during and in relation to a crime of violence. The material support count carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. The military training count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The machine gun count carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison, which must run consecutively to any other sentence. The minimum and maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant would be determined by the Court. JONES, who has been detained since his arrest in December 2015, will be sentenced by Judge Gardephe on January 25, 2018.