NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. officials on Friday arrested a 25-year-old man from suburban New York and charged him in a five-count indictment with attempting to travel to Yemen to join Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Court papers unsealed on Friday charged the man, Marcos Alonso Zea, with trying to join and provide aid to the group, which the United States regards as one of the most active wings of the militant network.
Zea planned to join Al Qaeda operations outside the United States that would result in murder, prosecutors charged.
He is due in court in Central Islip, New York, at 2 p.m. ET (1800 GMT).
The United States also charged Zea with attempting to give money to Al Qaeda affiliates, and trying to destroy his computers when he learned that he was under investigation. Investigators were able retrieve documents including issues of Al Qaeda’s “Inspire” magazine from his hard drives. They also recovered a semi-automatic rifle that Zea had given to an acquaintance before leaving for his trip to Yemen, prosecutors said.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for the Christmas Day 2009 attempt by a Nigerian man to take down a Detroit-bound airliner with a bomb hidden in his underwear.
He faces five criminal counts that include conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, two counts of trying to provide support to terrorists or terrorist organizations, and two counts of obstruction.
“Despite being born and raised in the United States, Zea allegedly betrayed his country and attempted to travel to Yemen in order to join a terrorist organization,” said Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
Zea was arrested at his home in Brentwood, New York, located 50 miles (80 km) east of Manhattan, federal prosecutors said.
A woman who answered the phone at Zea’s address declined to comment.
Federal prosecutors said that in January 2012, Zea attempted to fly from New York to Yemen, but was intercepted by British customs officials while changing planes and returned to the United States. Having been foiled in his attempt to reach Yemen, he then helped an 18-year-old associate, Justin Kaliebe, attempt a similar trip in January 2013.
Kaliebe was arrested while trying to board a flight to Oman and charged with trying to provide support to terrorists, according to court papers.
Zea’s arrest comes less than a month after a New York accountant was sentenced to 18 years in prison for charges that included researching the New York Stock Exchange in 2008 as a potential Al Qaeda target.
Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Bernadette Baum and Bob Burgdorfer