Columbia man charged with trying to aid terrorists

7 months 3 weeks 5 days ago Tuesday, February 21 2017 Feb 21, 2017 Tuesday, February 21, 2017 2:13:00 PM CST February 21, 2017 in News
By: Kaitlin Rounds and Ben Burke, KOMU 8 Digital Producers
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JEFFERSON CITY - A Columbia man has been charged in federal court on accusations that he played a role in making plans to launch a "murderous terrorist bombing and gunfire attack" with people he believed to be members of ISIS.

The U.S. District Court of Kansas City charged 25-year-old Robert Lorenzo Hester with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

Investigators said Hester was arrested on Feb. 17 after arriving at an arranged meeting with an undercover law enforcement agent.

"First on social media, then during face-to-face meetings with an undercover FBI employee, this defendant repeatedly expressed his intent to engage in acts of violent jihad against the United States,” prosecutor Tammy Dickinson said.

(On Friday, Feb. 17, police and federal authorities investigated Hester's home on Hanover Boulevard.) 

According to an affidavit, an investigation on Hester started when the FBI was told through multiple confidential sources about his social media posts.

Undercover agents posed as members of ISIS and arranged a meeting, investigators said.

“He believed he was part of an ISIS-sponsored terrorist attack that would result in the deaths and injuries of many innocent victims," Dickinson said. "He readily participated in the preparations for an attack, provided materials and resources for an attack, and voiced his intent to carry out an attack."

The affidavit said Hester's statements included his opinion that the U.S. government should be “overthrown,” and suggested “hitting” the government “hard,” while noting that it would not be “a one man job.” Hester identified categories of potential targets for attack and said he wanted a “global jihad.”

The affidavit describes two eventual meetings this way:

During a Jan. 31, 2017, meeting, the undercover employee provided Hester with a list of items to purchase, including 9-volt batteries, duct tape, copper wire, and roofing nails.  The undercover employee implied that these items would be used to make bombs, the affidavit says, stating that those materials are needed “to make … things … to bring some kind of destruction.” Hester allegedly responded by stating: “I’m just ready to help. I’m ready to help any way I can.” When the undercover employee stated that what they were planning was “going to bring them to their knees … and then they gonna know to fear Allah,” Hester expressed his anticipation by stating: “I can’t wait. I can’t wait.”

Hester and the undercover employee agreed to meet again at Hester’s residence the next day. When the undercover employee arrived, the affidavit says, Hester gave him the items he had purchased. The undercover employee told Hester they were planning something “10 times more” than the Boston Marathon bombing, and Hester expressed his approval. The undercover agent told Hester that they were planning on “killing a lot of people.” The undercover employee told Hester that he could “walk away,” the affidavit says, but Hester said, “I’m down.” The undercover employee told Hester they were going to “wage all kinda war,” and Hester again expressed his approval.

The undercover employee then pulled back blankets in the back of the SUV to show Hester three AK-47 style rifles and two .45-caliber handguns. The undercover agent told Hester that, while they had plenty of firearms, they needed more ammunition. Hester stated that he could not purchase ammunition because of his state charges, but that he had a friend that could get ammunition for him. Hester stated that he would have money to purchase ammunition after he received his tax refund and after he was paid in a couple of weeks.
 
The undercover employee also opened a backpack, which contained pipes and fuse, stating, “these are bombs right here.” The undercover employee explained that the duct tape Hester provided would be used to tape the bombs together, which Hester acknowledged, and that the nails Hester provided would “cut peoples’ heads off.” Hester responded: “Oh yeah. I know,” indicating that he understood the nails were to be used as shrapnel for bombs.
 
The undercover employee stated that they had more backpacks that they were going to put in different locations. Hester acknowledged that he understood, and stated that they had to be smarter than the Boston Marathon bombers. Hester again confirmed that he was “down,” the affidavit says, and that he understood they had to “lay low” and act in a manner to avoid detection.
 
The undercover employee stated that they were going to “strike fear in all these infidel hearts,” and Hester responded that he agreed and that he was ready.

The affidavit said communications between Hester and the undercover agents continued for the next two weeks and Hester predicted the attack was "going to be a good day for Muslims worldwide."

Hester has a previous criminal record. Records show he was arrested Oct. 3, 2016 for a domestic dispute in a parking lot with his wife, in which police said he pulled a knife on her and then a handgun on a store employee who tried to stop the dispute. 

Hester remained in federal custody as of Tuesday afternoon.

(Editor's Note: The initial press release from prosecutors identified Hester as being from Jefferson City.)

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