Last Thursday, 19-year-old Jacksonville resident Shelton Thomas Bell was indicted on charges of conspiring and attempting to provide material support to terrorists. Bell had previously journeyed to the Middle East where his desire for self-radicalization strengthened.
Similarly, Tamerlan Tsarnaev travelled to the Russian Federation provinces of Chechnya and Dagestan, in transit to the amplification of his radicalization. Tsarnaev was a Kyrgyzstan national.
According to National Public Radio, more than twenty Somali-American youths disappeared from their homes in Minnesota during the past year. It is believed by the FBI that the young men were recruited here in the U.S. then radicalized, and sent to Somalia. The fear is that they’ll eventually return to the United States to carry out attacks planned overseas.
In a Mar. 10 House Homeland Security Committee probe regarding the growing problem of radicalization within American Muslim communities, Melvin Bledsoe spoke about his son Carlos. Bledsoe went on the record, telling committee members of the personality changes his son underwent.
More and more cases of once benign young American Muslims undergoing changes of radical ideologies and planning to carry out terrorist acts in the U.S. have been dominating the current news headlines.
The now deceased Boston Marathon bomber prepared for the April 15 bombing attacks near the finish line of the Boston Marathon with at least some of his training allegedly acquired on foreign soil. His younger brother, Dzhokhar, a naturalized US citizen was greatly influenced by him.
Tamerlan spent more than half of last year interacting with militant individuals and groups which may have included a person labeled “Russia’s Bin Laden,” Dokka Umarov. In the 1990’s until 2011, Umarov led terrorist death squads in Chechnya until the United Nations finally characterized him a terrorist, affiliated with Al Qaeda.
Carlos Bledsoe is charged with murdering an Army private at a recruiting post located in Little Rock, Arkansas. His father testified in front of the House Homeland Security Committee saying that his son let his beloved pet dog go loose and removed pictures of Martin Luther King from the wall in his room. Up until the onset of this metamorphosis, King was his hero. He attributes what he considered strange behavior of his son’s temperament to be the launch of his alteration to a practice of radical Islam. Carlos, who was supposedly attending college in Nashville, TN, had become a follower of a radicalized mosque there, according to his father. “Carlos was captured by people best described as hunters; he was manipulated and lied to.”
According to authorities, Carlos took the new name, Abdulhakim Muhammed and in due course became the shooter in the attack of an Army recruiting post. He was enraged that U.S. troops were killing Muslims in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bledsoe Sr. said he was testifying to apologize to his son’s victims and to prevent other families from having to go through comparable pain. He pressed Congress to act. “God help us, God help us,” he said. “This is a big elephant in the room, and our society continues not to see it,” he said. “Our children are in danger. Our country must stand up and do something about the problem. Tomorrow it could be your son, your daughter.”
According to authorities, this latest indictment demonstrates how Bell was organizing to fight in a foreign holy war that he and other local Jacksonville youths had trained for while in quest of assistance from well-known overseas terrorists. If convicted, the charge of conspiring and attempting to provide material support to terrorists holds a maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison for each one of the two charges.
Bell was being detained at the Duval County Jail in Jacksonville on a number of state charges, including two counts of organized fraud, grand theft, and knowingly and intentionally participating in a motor vehicle crash at the time the new indictment was publicized He was originally arrested on January 29.
A Jacksonville-based terrorism task force made up of state, local and federal organizations uncovered the conspiracy, and it may have been the accounts of some members of a local Islamic Center that helped piece it together for the Federal Agency.
Bell roused suspicions at the Islamic Center in Jacksonville last year due to exchanges he was having with other teens who attended the center, including conversations regarding jihad as well as the ongoing civil war in Syria, according to Parvez Ahmed, the board secretary at the Florida Islamic Center.
According to Ahmed, some parents of young members came to the leadership of the Center with worries based on what was told to them by their children. The Center’s attorneys alerted the FBI. Federal agents then visited the Center on several occasions to interview the administrators and other members.
“We felt he was having conversations with younger kids that concerned us … about violence and things like that,” Ahmed said.
Bell is also suspect of using his training to orchestrate a July 4 night “mission” in which he and other youths outfitted in dark clothes, wore gloves and masks, wrapped their footwear in tape and damaged various religious sculptures at the Chapel Hills Memory Gardens cemetery close by to where he lived last year. Designed for a recruiting video, he allegedly recorded the activity at the cemetery which is located on St. Johns Bluff Road North.
Ahmed stated that it was believed that Bell was going through a fascination phase with Islam.
Previous to the incident, in late September Bell who lived just to the west of Jacksonville flew with another juvenile from Jacksonville to New York to Poland to Israel. Upon arrival in Israel they were denied entrance and turned away. The reasons are unclear why the two were not allowed into the Country.
They then resumed their travels arriving in Jordan on Sept. 28 flying via Poland and then through Turkey. At that point the two contacted an unnamed person who supposedly knew of their plan and had the ability to expedite their transport to their final destination of Yemen, according to the indictment. It’s uncertain if either Bell or the juvenile arrived at their endpoint.
In November, Bell returned to Jacksonville. In the indictment the whereabouts of the juvenile was not indicated at the time of Bell’s return.
In an interview by the Times-Union a woman identifying herself as Bell’s mother told the publication that Shelton had converted to Islam and that he also had been abroad, but she didn’t further elaborate. She insisted that although he’s been indicted, it doesn’t make the allegations true. Other than that, she had no further comments.
Overall, the indictment accuses Bell of flying to the Arabian Peninsula and then meeting with members of Ansar Al-Sharia which is a pseudo name for al-Qaida, to commit acts of violence which he termed a “jihad.” The Ansar Al-Sharia terrorist group has taken credit for numerous assaults on Yemeni forces which include a May 2012 suicide bombing during a parade that killed in excess of 100 soldiers.
Bell and one or two other juveniles are also suspected of training with firearms on July 4 and July 10. The latter exercise was recorded to be shown to others as a training video, the indictment showed.
In the Boston case, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wrote a note which was left in the boat he was hiding in, while he was being hunted by the police. It indicated that the bombings were reprisals for U.S. military action in the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars. He also called the Boston victims “collateral damage” in the same way that Muslims have been the same in the American-directed wars. “When you attack one Muslim, you attack all Muslims,” he said.
He also said that he didn’t grieve for his brother Tamerlan, writing that by that point, Tamerlan was a martyr in paradise, and that he anticipated that he would join him there shortly.
Bell referred to this training as “practicing jihad “, and identified his real target as “not the American people, just the flag and the government”, the indictment said.
To read the latest FBI press release regarding the Bell indictment, click here
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