An American citizen accused of working with al-Qaida members pleaded guilty Thursday for receiving training from a foreign terrorist organization.
During a court hearing, Daniel Joseph Maldonado, 28, a Muslim convert also known as Daniel Aljughaifi and Abu Mohammed, admitted to traveling in December to a terrorist camp in Somalia, where he was trained to use firearms and explosives in an effort to help the Islamic Courts Union topple the government and install an Islamic state. Members of al-Qaida were present at the camp.
Maldonado was captured by the Kenyan military while trying to flee Somalia in January and brought back to the United States in February.
"For an American to travel overseas to train as a violent jihadist alongside al-Qaida elements who are focused upon threatening the security of our nation, is decidedly disturbing and definitely illegal," said U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle. "Maldonado's conviction should serve as a strong warning to any American who considers joining forces with terrorist groups here or abroad."
Brent Newton, Maldonado's attorney, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
Maldonado, who is being held without bond, is to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gray Miller on June 29. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 (183,800 EUR).
Maldonado, who grew up in Pelham, New Hampshire, lived in Houston for four months in 2005 before moving with his wife and three children to Cairo, Egypt.
He also faced an additional charge conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, specifically a bomb. But as part of an agreement with authorities, Maldonado pleaded guilty only to the charge of receiving training from a foreign terrorist organization.
Defense attorneys had previously described Maldonado as a man who, driven by anti-Muslim sentiment in America since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, moved out of the country with his family so they could live at ease as Muslims.
Authorities said Maldonado moved to Somalia with his wife and kids. Just before his arrest as he and his family tried to leave Somalia and go to Kenya, they became separated. His wife later died of malaria. His children are being cared for by his parents in New Hampshire.
"Today's guilty plea is the first involving an American who joined forces with Islamic extremist fighters in Somalia and should serve notice to others who would travel overseas to wage violent jihad," said Kenneth L. Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security.