WASHINGTON (CNN) — A former U.S. Army soldier was charged Monday with attempting to travel to Somalia to join the terrorist group Al-Shabaab, according to the Justice Department.
Craig Benedict Baxam, 24, was arrested Friday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport as he returned from a failed effort to get to Somalia, authorities said.
The Maryland resident had an initial court appearance Monday afternoon on the charge of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group.
The only time Baxam spoke during the hearing was to respond “Yes” when the judge asked if he understood the charge against him and the possible penalty.
Magistrate Judge William Connolly ordered that Baxam will remain in jail at least until he returns to court Wednesday for a detention hearing.
According to a criminal complaint, Baxam departed the United States on December 20 en route to Kenya and tried to travel on to Somalia from there. He was arrested by Kenyan authorities on December 23, on suspicion of terrorism.
Baxam was interviewed twice by FBI agents while he was in Kenyan custody and allegedly told them he wanted to join Al-Shabaab, live under Sharia law and never intended to to leave Somalia. According to the criminal complaint, Baxam said he was “looking for dying with a gun in my hand” and said he would be guaranteed a place in paradise.
Prosecutors say Baxam secretly converted to Islam just days before leaving the Army in July. He joined the Army in 2007 and underwent eight months of advanced training for cryptology and intelligence, according to the government. After his training, Baxam was deployed to Baghdad and to South Korea where he separated from the service one month before the completion of his deployment. The court document does not explain how Baxam left the Army early.
A law enforcement official said there is no information to suggest Baxam compromised any military information.
“Mr. Baxam was caught in Kenya before he reached Somalia, and there is no allegation that anyone assisted him,” said Rod Rosenstein, U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland.
According to the criminal complaint, Baxam told the FBI he didn’t have names of any contacts to reach out to in Somalia but that he “trusted in Allah.”
“He was asked what he thought his role would be with Al-Shabaab to which he stated that he would just be another body there,” according to the court document.
Prosecutors say Baxam cashed out his retirement savings account of a little over $3,600 dollars and purchased a round trip ticket to Kenya to avoid arousing suspicion. He allegedly planned to give Al-Shabaab some amount between $600 and $700 dollars as an offering upon his arrival, authorities said.
“FBI Special Agents in Africa, working alongside our Kenyan police partners, worked together to stop an individual who is now alleged to have been on his way to join a major terrorist group,” said Richard McFeely, the FBI agent in charge of the Baltimore office. “This spirit of cooperation in fighting terrorism continues to transcend borders around the world.”
If convicted of attempting to provide material support to terrorists, Baxam faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release.
CNN’s Paul Courson contributed to this report.