Ex-soldier accused of trying to join terrorist group ordered held

The Laurel man who is accused of attempting to join a terrorist group in Somalia was ordered held Wednesday until his case is decided.

Craig Benedict Baxam, 24, is charged with attempting to provide material support to a State Department-designated foreign terrorist organization. The former U.S. soldier was detained last month by police in Kenya and arrested last week on his return to the United States.

Prosecutors say Baxam, who served four years with the Army in Iraq and South Korea, was attempting to reach Somalia, where he intended to join al-Shabaab and live under Sharia law.

U.S. officials say the al-Qaida-linked group is responsible for assassinations, suicide bombings and other attacks on the Somali government, civil society leaders, aid workers, peace activists and journalists.

Prosecutors say Baxam was carrying between $600 and $700 that he intended to give to al-Shabaab when he reached the border.

In U.S. District Court on Wednesday, prosecutors pointed to statements Baxam is alleged to have made that he would defend al-Shabaab if it were attacked by the United States and that he was "looking for dying with a gun in my hand" as they argued that he posed a flight risk and a danger to the community if released before trial.

"He indicated his loyalties are to Islam and not to the United States," Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Welsh told Magistrate Judge William Connelly.

Baxam's attorney said he had simply discovered Islam and wanted to emigrate to a Muslim land and live a new way of life.

John Chamble, Baxam's court-appointed public defender, said any statements his client made about defending al-Shabaab came in response to leading questions from FBI interviewers in Kenya. Authorities have not made clear the circumstances of his return to the U.S.

Chamble described the 2005 Laurel High School graduate as "naive" and "impulsive," and said the likeliest outcome had he reached Somalia is that al-Shabaab would have "put a bullet in his head."

Baxam's detention by Kenyan police, Chamble said, "quite frankly, probably saved his life."

After hearing the arguments, Connelly found probable cause for the charge of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

Connelly said Baxam's intention to leave the United States and not return, and evidence that he intended to provide support to al-Shabaab, meant there were no conditions under which he could release Baxam and ensure his attendance for future court appearances or the safety of the community.

Chamble then asked Connelly to urge the U.S. Marshals Service to move Baxam from the super-maximum-security Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore to the Charles County Detention Center. He said Baxam had tried at least once to reach Chamble from the Supermax without success.

Connelly said he would pass the request on to the Marshals Service, which decides where federal prisoners are to be held.

Chamble declined to comment after the hearing.



Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad