Mobile, Ala. – A Syracuse native has pleaded guilty to plotting violent acts in the United States before deciding to join a violent jihadist movement abroad, according to court documents filed this week.
Mohammad Abdul Rahman Abukhdair, 25, faces 15 years in prison on terrorism charges, court documents state. Abukhdair and his co-defendant Randy “Rasheed” Wilson will be sentenced in December.
According to court documents, Abukhdair said that the purpose of Islam is to conquer the world with violent means. He suggested that he and Wilson could form “AQUSA” – al-Qaeda in the USA. He proposed seizing hostages in the U.S. and demanding the release of convicted terrorists.
Abukhdair and Wilson eventually decided to fight for Islam in Africa instead, and planned traveling to Mali, where they expected violence to break out. Abukhdair was arrested at an Atlanta bus stop on Dec. 11, 2012, as he prepared to fly to Morocco via Canada.
Abukhdair and Wilson initially contested the charges. Public defender Domingo Soto argued that their statements and plans were theoretical, and that there was no proof they planned any violent actions, according to the Associated Press.
Some activists have said Abukhdair’s arrest demonstrates the overreach of the FBI’s investigations into alleged terrorist activity. An advocacy organization produced by several NGOs critical of the War on Terror, said that Abukhdair was entrapped by federal agents unfairly targeting Muslims.
The case raises questions of “whether or not Muslims have the same rights to expression, speech or idle fanciful talk as has been afforded to other American citizens,” the organization said.
But federal prosecutors said the case was not about “two people being arrested because they discussed the tenants of Islam and expressed their dissatisfaction with the United States.”
“Rather … Wilson and Abukhdair constantly, continuously and explicitly conspired with one another to achieve their shared goal of waging violent jihad in a foreign country,” prosecutors said.
Abukhdair was born in Syracuse on Oct. 3, 1987. Court documents do not say how long he lived in the area, but in 2007 he moved from the U.S. to Cairo, Egypt.
Below is a timeline of some of the events leading to Abukhdair’s arrest. If you have information about Abukhdair’s time in Syracuse, feel free to contact me at or 427-6595.
Oct. 7 2010 – Abukhdair and Wilson meet online, aspire to join terrorist group in Somalia
Al Shabaab, the Somalia-based cell of al-Qaeda at war with Somali and African Union troops, believes in strict Sharia law and has killed scores through terrorist strikes over the last several years. In July, Al Shabaab militants injured several people in an attack on a Turkish embassy in Somalia.
Abukhdair and Wilson met over the Internet and agreed that they wanted to go to Somalia for violent jihad, according to court documents. Wilson’s former roommate and friend Omar Shafik Hammami, who is also from Alabama, fights for al-Shabaab in Somalia.
“I feel like Somalia is the easiest place,” Abukhdair said. They referred to the country by the code name San Diego.
The problem was how to get to Somalia safely. Abukhdair and Wilson eventually scrapped the plan for this reason, deciding that violent jihad is not limited to any country.
“The world is a battlefield,” Wilson said, according to the criminal complaint. “Jihad is not restricted to any particular land.”
October 2011 – Abukhdair returns to U.S. after imprisonment in Egypt
Shortly after he began talking with Wilson online, Abukhdair was arrested by Egyptian authorities in the twilight of President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, court documents say. Abukhdair was imprisoned and tortured for two months by Egyptian authorities, according to Aseernun, the advocacy group.
About a year later, in October 2011, Abukhdair flew back to the U.S. Wilson picked him up in Cleveland, and the two began plotting alternatives to violent jihad on their drive to Mobile, Ala.
Wilson had settled on Sudan. The war between Muslims and non-believers had accelerated there, Wilson said.
“It’s either we’re gonna kill them and defeat them, or they’re gonna kill us and defeat us,” he said.
Feb. 3 2012 – Abukhdair suggests plan to take U.S. hostages
Frustrated by their inability to get passports and money for a trip to Africa, Abukhdair began demanding that he and Wilson seize hostages in the United States.
Abukhdair wanted to demand the release of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and Aafia Siddiqui. Rahman is the alleged mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Aafia Siddiqui is a Pakistani neuroscientist who reportedly shot at law enforcement agents looking into her bomb-making instructions.
“We’ll just shoot it out with the police,” Abukhdair said of his hostage plan. If demands are not met, he said, “Well, at the very least, we’ll kill them all.”
Wilson rejected the plan, noting that the U.S. has a “don’t negotiate with terrorists thing.”
“I don’t know if you guys understand the greatness of a jihad operation in the United States, man,” Abukhdair responded. But he eventually relented, and the two began raising money and obtaining passports to leave for Africa.