Washington A Somali man has been indicted on charges that he plotted with members of al-Qaida to blow up an Ohio shopping mall, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said Monday.
"The American heartland was targeted for death and destruction by an al-Qaida cell," Ashcroft said.
Nuradin Abdi, 32, allegedly conspired with admitted al-Qaida operative Iyman Faris, an Ohio truck driver who pleaded guilty last year to plotting to cut the cables on the Brooklyn Bridge, authorities said.
Abdi has been held on immigration charges since November.
The four-count indictment was handed down Thursday by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Ohio. Unsealed on Monday, it charges Abdi with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and with document fraud. He could receive up to 80 years in prison if convicted on all the counts.
Ashcroft said Abdi immigrated to the United States in 1999, falsifying information on an asylum claim. Sometime in 1999 or 2000 he traveled to a military-style camp in Ogaden, Ethiopia, where he trained in bomb making and guerrilla warfare in order to launch a "violent jihad," according to the indictment.
When Abdi returned to the United States, Faris met him at the airport. The two began planning to detonate a bomb at an unidentified Columbus-area shopping mall, authorities said.
Federal law-enforcement officials have been warning in recent weeks of a possible al-Qaida strike this summer.
"Current credible intelligence indicates that al-Qaida wants to hit the United States, to hit the United States hard," Ashcroft said again Monday.
The announcement of the Abdi plot raised new concerns about security at the nation's shopping malls.
A report last month from the independent commission that's investigating the Sept. 11 attacks found that shopping malls and other privately owned facilities remain largely unprepared for terrorist attacks.
Malachy Kavanagh, a spokesman for the International Association of Shopping Centers, said malls and other retail outlets had been upgrading security since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, placing concrete barricades outside entrances, cordoning off ventilation systems and placing municipal police outposts at some centers.
Kavanagh said retail officials were in close contact with local and federal law enforcement regarding specific threats. But he said mall officials hadn't been alerted to the alleged Abdi plot or been given new instructions to boost security.
Abdi ran a small cell-phone business and was living in Columbus before he was taken into custody Nov. 28 by agents with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. His wife, who is due to have their third child this month, maintains that her husband is innocent and is being targeted because he's Muslim.