GREENBELT, Md. (AP) — A former U.S. Army soldier accused of trying to provide support to a terrorist organization in Somalia after he left the military will remain locked up until his trial, a judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. Magistrate Judge William Connelly rejected defense arguments that Craig Baxam was naive and impulsive and simply exploring his religion when he left the United States for Somalia last month with the goal of joining al-Shabaab, a group designated as a foreign terrorist organization. He was picked up in neighboring Kenya before he could reach Somalia and was questioned by FBI agents.
“What is striking is that Mr. Baxam formed an intent to leave the country and not come back,” Connelly said, agreeing with prosecutors that Baxam was a flight risk and danger to the community.
Baxam, a 24-year-old Maryland man who joined the Army in 2007 and spent time in Iraq and South Korea, converted to Islam last summer after reading an Islamic religious website and left the military about a week later, federal authorities say.
Baxam’s public defender, John Chamble, argued that his client wanted to practice his newly discovered Islam faith and was exercising his rights to free speech and religion. He said Baxam had naively “looked for religion in the wrong places.”
“We’ve got a young man six months into discovering his religion — untutored, untaught — trying to discover things for himself,” he said.
Baxam tried to keep his conversion a secret — though a roommate in the Army found a prayer rug and books — and destroyed a home computer before he left for Somalia because he did not want to leave a record of his activities, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit.
Baxam, who was arrested Friday upon returning to Maryland, is charged with trying to provide support for a terrorist organization. He faces a maximum prison sentence of 15 years if convicted, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
The affidavit says Baxam planned to migrate to the al-Shabaab-controlled areas of southern Somalia and told agents he planned to fight alongside the group if attacked by the United States or another democratic government. Authorities say he envisioned himself dying in Somalia and, when asked what his role with al-Shabaab would be, said he would be “just another body there,” the complaint said.
He said that living as a Muslim in the United States was “oppressive” and found the “constant playing of music and constant display of pictures disrespectful,” the affidavit said.
Federal authorities say Baxam cashed out his savings of roughly $3,500 and used some of the money to buy a round-trip ticket to Kenya to arouse less suspicion. After arriving last month, he tried to use a combination of buses and taxis to take him to Somalia. He was detained after his bus was stopped by the Kenyan police.
Chamble argued that Baxam’s travels were basically directionless because he had never formulated a plan.
“There was no plan. He came with no weapon. He came with no significant money. He had no plan. He didn’t even know how to get there,” he said.
Chamble noted that there was no allegation that Baxam had made contact with the terrorist group or that anyone else was involved in his decision to travel to Somalia. Had the former soldier actually made it to Somalia, Chamble said, “the more likely scenario is they would have put a bullet in his head.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)