JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A 20-year-old Florida man pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiring to aid al-Qaida and traveling to the Middle East to join terrorist groups, prosecutors said.
Shelton Thomas Bell pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and attempting to provide material support to terrorists, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Jacksonville reported. He faces up to 30 years in prison. A sentencing date has not been set.
"Working with our law enforcement partners to prevent terrorism and promote national security is a top priority," U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III said in a news release. "We are thankful that this investigation was resolved without harm or injury to any citizens, at home or abroad."
An indictment said Bell planned to join Ansar Al-Sharia, another name for al-Qaida in the Middle East region. The group has taken responsibility for attacks on Yemeni forces, including a suicide bombing during a May 2012 parade 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 was 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 and the juvenile were eventually deported from Jordan to the United States in November 2012, authorities said.
Bell was arrested in the Jacksonville area on state charges in January 2013. He had built a computer-repair business with a partner and opened a booth at a flea market. Bell disappeared with several computers and thousands of dollars in cash from the partner, authorities said. Police suspected Bell later sold the computers. The partner told police he had known Bell for about a year and they had an arrangement in which the partner would buy broken computers, give them to Bell to fix, and they would split the profits.
Bell was still being held in the Duval County jail in Jacksonville in July 2013 when a grand jury indicted him on the terrorism charges.
"Stopping these threats from within is the grim reality we deal with today," FBI Special Agent in Charge Michelle S. Klimt said in the release. "This case serves as a reminder that terrorist-related activities can occur anywhere. It also shows that we will use all the resources at our disposal to root out the individuals posing these threats to keep America safe."