A Jacksonville, Florida teen named Shelton Thomas Bell was indicted July 18 on charges of conspiracy and attempt to provide material support to terrorists. Only 19 years old at the time of his arrest, Bell was a convert to Islam who previously had attended the N.E. Florida Islamic Center in Jacksonville before departing in late 2012 on an overseas journey to join the “jihad.”
Somehow, somewhere, Bell seemed to have gotten the idea that jihad was violent armed fighting, and he wanted to link up with a branch of Al-Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP) called Ansar al-Shariah (AAS), which is based in Yemen.
The primary objective of both AQAP and its AAS spin-off is the imposition and enforcement of Islamic (sharia) law. Both AQAP and AAS are on the list of U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations , which makes it a crime to provide them material support.
Unfortunately for Bell, his late September 2012 journey to the Middle East began with a stopover in Israel, who promptly refused him entry and put him on a return flight to his previous stopover, in Warsaw, Poland. There, Bell bought a ticket to Amman, Jordan, where things seemed to come apart for him.
According to the indictment, Bell intended to travel to Oman before making his way overland to join Islamic fighters in Yemen; he even bought a plane ticket to Oman. Whether it was an Israeli entry refusal stamp in his passport, or simply Jordanian officials talking with their Israeli counterparts, Bell’s journey to jihad went no further than Amman and he returned to the U.S.
As Randy McDaniels noted in a July 22 WatchDogWire article about the case, Bell was only 17 years old when attended the N.E. Florida Islamic Center; and yet, even at that young age, according to Parvez Ahmed, a Board member and official spokesman for the Islamic Center, Bell already stood out for his “very traditional Islamic clothing,” an obvious signal to his developing Islamic devotion.
The district court indictment further notes that, during 2012, Bell had drawn attention to himself by trying to persuade at least one other Jacksonville juvenile to join him in his journey to jihad. That unnamed juvenile participated in physical fitness and firearms training with Bell and even conducted a practice run with him one night in July 2012 when they “caused significant damage to religious statues at the Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens Cemetery.”
Inept as Bell’s attempts to fight jihad with AAS/AQAP may have been, the key issues here, as McDaniels points out, center rather on who were the influential individuals in Bell’s life that led him to convert to Islam in the first place and then so deeply indoctrinated him with Islamic precepts on jihad that he took such concrete, indictable steps towards joining forces that are implacably hostile to U.S. national security interests.
Did Bell fall under the influence of individuals at the N.E. Florida Islamic Center? Did any of such influences point him in the direction of online internet contacts in the world of jihadist chat rooms?
Read more at The Clarion Project