Columbia man accused of trying to aid ISIS pleads guilty
A Columbia man charged in federal court with trying to aid a terrorist operation has pleaded guilty to a single charge in federal court.
Robert Lorenzo Hester, 28, pleaded guilty Monday afternoon to providing material support or resources to terrorists. A sentencing date had not yet been set.
Hester was charged in February 2017, accused of making preparations to launch a terrorist attack and believing he was meeting members of ISIS. Those members were actually undercover law enforcement agents.
The FBI became suspicious of the Columbia man and used an undercover agent to contact Hester on social media, according to a probable cause affidavit. The two then communicated via text and an encrypted messaging app. The agency said Hester presented himself as a security threat, stating that the U.S. government should be “overthrown” and suggested of “hitting” the government “hard.”
Authorities identified categories of Hester’s potential targets for attack and said he wanted a “global jihad.” The Columbia man stated he was trying to find like minded people to help. When the undercover agent mentioned “brothers,” Hester then said he wanted to meet him.
Hester, a U.S. citizen born in Missouri, was enlisted in the U.S. Army for less than a year, receiving a general discharge from service in mid-2013. He also went by the names Mohammed Junaid Al Amreeki, Junaid Muhammad, Rabbani Junaid Muhammad, Rami Talib and Ali Talib Muhammad.
The following information was taken from a U.S. Western District Attorney’s Office release at the time Hester was charged:
“Hester and the undercover employee agreed to meet again at Hester’s residence the next day. When the undercover employee arrived, the affidavit says, Hester gave him the items he had purchased. The undercover employee told Hester they were planning something “10 times more” than the Boston Marathon bombing, and Hester expressed his approval. The undercover agent told Hester that they were planning on “killing a lot of people.” The undercover employee told Hester that he could “walk away,” the affidavit says, but Hester said, “I’m down.” The undercover employee told Hester they were going to “wage all kinda war,” and Hester again expressed his approval.
The undercover employee then pulled back blankets in the back of the SUV to show Hester three AK-47 style rifles and two .45-caliber handguns. The undercover agent told Hester that, while they had plenty of firearms, they needed more ammunition. Hester stated that he could not purchase ammunition because of his state charges, but that he had a friend that could get ammunition for him. Hester stated that he would have money to purchase ammunition after he received his tax refund and after he was paid in a couple of weeks.
The undercover employee also opened a backpack, which contained pipes and fuse, stating, “these are bombs right here.” The undercover employee explained that the duct tape Hester provided would be used to tape the bombs together, which Hester acknowledged, and that the nails Hester provided would “cut peoples’ heads off.” Hester responded: “Oh yeah. I know,” indicating that he understood the nails were to be used as shrapnel for bombs.
The undercover employee stated that they had more backpacks that they were going to put in different locations. Hester acknowledged that he understood, and stated that they had to be smarter than the Boston Marathon bombers. Hester again confirmed that he was “down,” the affidavit says, and that he understood they had to “lay low” and act in a manner to avoid detection.
The undercover employee stated that they were going to “strike fear in all these infidel hearts,” and Hester responded that he agreed and that he was ready.
According to the affidavit, Hester contacted the first undercover employee via text message on Feb. 2, 2017, and indicated he would “have some more stuff in a couple of weeks when I get paid.” Hester asked the undercover employee, “When you talk to the brother again let him know I’ll have some more gifts in a couple of weeks.”
On Feb. 4, 6, 7, 11 and 16, 2017, Hester communicated with an undercover employee via an encrypted messaging app. Hester said that he was excited, that he was “happy to be part” of it, and that it was “time they answer for their atrocities.” Hester predicted that it was “going to be a good day for Muslims worldwide.” Hester asked how the “party plan” was coming along and reiterated that he would get more “supplies.” The undercover employee told Hester that the “party” would take place on Presidents’ Day and that the targets of the operation would include buses, trains and a train station in Kansas City, Mo. Hester said, according to the affidavit, that it felt “good to help strike back at the true terrorist.”
On Feb. 17, 2017, Hester met again with the second undercover employee and provided more roofing nails. Hester accompanied the undercover employee to a nearby storage facility, where the two examined the security cameras. Hester was arrested shortly thereafter.”