CATONSVILLE, Md. (WJZ)– He’s the local face of terror– a former Baltimore County man who plotted with al-Qaeda to kill Americans.
Adam May looks at how the boy next door turned into the deadliest form of homegrown terrorist.
The quiet suburban streets of a Catonsville neighborhood suddenly became ground zero in a 2003 terror investigation.
“A guy knocked on my door. He said he was from the FBI,” said Ron Hetzner, neighbor.
“Outside my house I noticed a lot of unmarked cars,” said Mark Finney, neighbor.
Agents searched for information about Majid Khan.
“Yeah, that guy used to live across the street from me,” said Finney.
The 1999 graduate of Owings Mills High School is now the only American citizen being held in Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. detainment and interrogation camp in Cuba.
When asked what he remembered about Khan, one neighbor said, “He was a nice kid.”
“He rode his bike, he played a little ball,” Finney said.
But Khan had a secret. This seemingly innocent Maryland man was plotting terror.
“The wrong recruiter got to him,” Barry, a neighbor, said. “Bin Laden gave him a job.”
While the 9/11 attack horrified most American citizens, prosecutors say Khan was inspired by the wrong side. Two months later, he jumped on a plane to Pakistan.
“He joined with and materially supported al-Qaeda,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, chief prosecutor.
Khan strapped on a suicide bomber vest and planned to kill the president of Pakistan in a mosque, but the plot failed.
Soon after, the mastermind of 9/11 instructed Khan to fly back to Baltimore. Khan tried to develop plans to blow up gas stations and poison local water supplies here in the metro area.
When that failed, Khan flew to Indonesia. He successfully delivered money to fund the bombing of a Marriott hotel. The blast killed a dozen people.
“This gentlemen got involved with the worse of the worst,” said Michael Greenberger, former U.S. counter-terrorism official.
Greenberger, a University of Maryland law professor and former counter-terrorism official, is extremely intrigued by a landmark deal the former Baltimore County man recently struck with the government that could stop future attacks. In a rare move Khan pleaded guilty and actually will testify against other terrorists.
“The fact that they gave him a good deal suggests to me that he has information that is useful to the United States in plotting out what the terror threats are,” Greenberger said.
“He wishes he had never been involved with al-Qaeda, ever,” said Lt. Col. John Jackson, defense.
But Khan is not the only suspect with Maryland ties. Since 9/11, a handful of other Marylanders have also been charged with less serious terror-related incidents.
Greenberger says he thinks the government is taking the right steps to stop homegrown terrorists.
“But we cannot forget there’s an ease of entry to the terrorist activities and we have to be vigilant,” he added.
In Khan’s case, the transformation from the quiet teen who went to school in Owings Mills to terrorist leaves his old neighbors with questions.
“How does that come to be, who knows what triggers anyone,” Finney said.
“I guess they could be anywhere,” Hetzner said.
Khan will serve between 19 and 25 years for his crimes. It’s unclear what will happen to him after his sentence.