Former U.S. Soldier Attempts to Join Al Shabaab

  • January 12, 2012

An American citizen who separated from the United States Army in July 2011 was arrested in Kenya while attempting to join Al Shabaab, an Islamic militant group that seeks to create an Islamic state in Somalia.

Craig Baxam, 24, from Laurel, Maryland, departed the United States for Kenya on December 20, 2011, after emptying his government retirement account. He was detained by Kenyan authorities while trying to reach the Somali border on December 23, 2011.  During an interview with the FBI in Kenya, Baxam confessed his desire to join Al Shabaab after waiving his rights to silence and counsel.

Baxam converted to Islam shortly before leaving the Army, where he was trained in cryptology and intelligence operations, according to court documents.  Baxam claims that he did not subscribe to any religion prior to this point, but “immediately realized Islam was the truth” after reading about it online.

In his conversations with investigators, Baxam described how he came to find living as a religious Muslim in the United States oppressive. He considered hijra, the immigration to Islamic lands, mandatory.  He specifically said that the only areas he deemed suitable were those controlled by Al Shabaab or the Taliban, or the area in the southern Philippines in which a terrorist organization is seeking to establish and Islamic state.

Baxam told authorities that his loyalties were to Islam, adding that he hoped to live his life in an Islamic state, but would be ready to take up arms against the United States if necessary.  He explained that he was guaranteed a place in Jannah (paradise) if he died fighting for Islam, and that he was “looking for dying with a gun in my hand.” 

In an apparent departure from other cases of Americans seeking to join Al Shabaab, Baxam is not alleged to have received assistance from anyone in the United States or Somalia, according to the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Baxam was arrested upon his return to the U.S. on January 6, 2012, and was charged on January 9 with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization.  He faces up to 15 years imprisonment if convicted.