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Two men accused in alleged bomb plots in Illinois, Texas

The unrelated incidents involve alleged attacks against a Springfield courthouse and a Dallas skyscraper. Undercover agents were on to the men, giving them fake explosives.

September 25, 2009|Times Staff And Wire Reports

Two men who professed devotion to Al Qaeda -- one a convert to Islam, the other a Jordanian native -- were charged Thursday with plotting to blow up buildings in Illinois and Texas.

In both cases, the men thought they were working with Al Qaeda operatives when they were really working with undercover federal agents.

One man, according to authorities, planted what he thought was an explosive outside a Dallas skyscraper, while the other parked a van, supposedly armed with a bomb, outside a federal courthouse in Springfield, Ill. The devices were fakes.

Neither case is related to the charges against Najibullah Zazi, 24, a Denver airport shuttle driver indicted in New York on charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

In Illinois, Michael Finton of Decatur allegedly plotted to attack the Springfield courthouse, but the charges make it clear that authorities were on to him from the start and that he was dealing with an undercover federal agent posing as an Al Qaeda operative.

Finton, also known as Talib Islam, was charged with attempting to kill federal employees and to use an explosive against the Paul Findley Federal Building, according to a federal complaint.

An affidavit filed in the case states that members of an FBI-led task force began investigating Finton, a restaurant worker who converted to Islam in prison, after hearing from his parole officer. A search of his vehicle after his arrest in 2007 on a parole violation allegedly turned up letters mentioning martyrdom and purported contact with John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban," who was captured in Afghanistan.

The FBI had a drug informant become friendly with Finton, according to the complaint. The informant told agents that Finton had talked about wanting to get terrorist training and to fight in Gaza against Israelis. Agents then worked to set up an "opportunity for action that we controlled," began recording encounters with him and put him in touch with an undercover agent who told Finton he was an Al Qaeda operative.

In a July conversation, Finton allegedly told the agent he was considering attacks on "government buildings, banks and police stations." His hope was that an attack would cause the U.S. military to withdraw from conflicts overseas.

"Finton said attacking the FBI office would be great, because he had no love for the police, so that would not bother him a bit," according to the affidavit. He allegedly proposed bombing the federal building in Springfield in July with a backpack bomb or an explosive in a vehicle.

In August, the agent told Finton that the plan had been approved by his supervisors in Al Qaeda and had Finton make a videotaped message that supposedly was to be shown to organization leaders, including Osama bin Laden.

Finton, who made statements acknowledging that he knew that everyone in the Paul Findley Federal Building would be killed, met up with the agent on Wednesday, allegedly believing he would be carrying out an attack against the building.

He allegedly armed a dummy bomb in a van while the undercover agent watched and was arrested after parking near the building and making a cellphone call that he thought would set it off.

In Texas, 19-year-old Hosam Maher Husein Smadi was arrested Thursday after placing what he believed to be a car bomb outside the 60-story Fountain Place office tower, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office in Dallas.

Smadi was in federal custody in Dallas without bond, said Special Agent Mark White, spokesman for the Dallas FBI office.

The FBI kept Smadi, who lived in the small north Texas town of Italy, under surveillance after undercover agents discovered him in an online group of extremists, according to an FBI affidavit.

"He stood out based on his vehement intention to actually conduct terror attacks in the United States," FBI Supervisory Special Agent Thomas Petrowski wrote in the affidavit.

Three undercover agents, all native Arabic speakers, eventually met with Smadi over several months, posing as members of an Al Qaeda sleeper cell, according to the court documents.

Smadi, provided with what he thought was a car bomb, on Thursday allegedly drove the vehicle into the parking garage beneath the building. Smadi met again with an undercover agent, who drove several blocks away, and Smadi dialed a cellphone he was led to believe would detonate the car bomb, according to the affidavit.

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