JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A 19-year-old Florida man accused of conspiring to aid al-Qaida and traveling to the Middle East to join terrorist groups pleaded not guilty Monday in a federal court in Jacksonville.
During a brief arraignment hearing, Shelton Thomas Bell entered the not guilty pleas to two federal counts of trying to provide material support to terrorists.
An indictment said Bell planned to join Ansar Al-Sharia, which is an alias for al-Qaida in the Middle East region. The group has taken responsibility for attacks on Yemeni forces, including a suicide bombing during a parade in May 2012 that killed more than 100 soldiers.
Bell participated in physical, firearm and other training in Florida to prepare for armed conflict, federal agents said. Bell is also accused of soliciting others to travel overseas with him to train.
In September 2012, Bell and a juvenile went to Amman, Jordan, and made contact with someone who investigators said could help them travel to Yemen to participate in violent jihad, according to the indictment. The indictment does not say whether Bell ever entered Yemen.
Bell is being held at the Duval County Jail in Jacksonville on state charges, including two counts of grand theft, organized fraud and knowingly and intentionally participating in a motor vehicle crash. He was arrested Jan. 29.
Before his arrest, Bell had built up a computer-repair business with Michael Papagiannakis and opened a booth at a flea market. Bell disappeared with several computers and thousands of dollars in cash from Papagiannakis, authorities said.
Police suspect Bell later sold the computers.
Papagiannakis told police he had known Bell for about a year and they had an arrangement in which Papagiannakis would buy broken computers, give them to Bell to fix, and they would split the profits.
Bell told Papagiannakis he had a friend who could buy refurbished computers and he needed $9,000 to get them a cheaper price, but only had $4,500. Papagiannakis agreed to give Bell the other $4,500. After Bell stalled several times, telling Papagiannakis the deal was still in the works, Bell disappeared, authorities said.
Papagiannakis said he went to Bell's grandmother's house and was told Bell had bought a one-way ticket to Jerusalem.