US teen faces aiding terrorists charges
JACKSONVILLE, Florida (AP) — A Florida teen accused of traveling to the Middle East to train with terrorists is facing federal charges.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa announced Thursday that a grand jury has indicted Shelton Thomas Bell, 19, of Jacksonville, on charges of conspiring and attempting to provide material support to terrorists. He faces up to 15 years in prison for each of the two charges.
According to the indictment, Bell had planned to travel to the Arabian Peninsula and join Ansar Al-Sharia, which is an alias for al-Qaida there. The group has taken responsibility for multiple attacks on Yemeni forces, including a suicide bombing during a parade in May 2012, which killed more than 100 Yemeni soldiers. The group has also claimed credit for a series of armed assaults in March 2012, killing more than 100 people, including Yemeni soldiers.
Investigators reported that Bell and others between May and September 2012 engaged in physical, firearm and other training to prepare for armed conflict in the Middle East. Bell is also accused of soliciting others, including young people, to travel overseas with him to train.
According to court records, Bell made video and audio recordings intended to be distributed to others once he arrived in the Middle East. The purpose was to solicit and recruit others there to participate in violent jihad, federal authorities said.
In September 2012, Bell and a juvenile went to Amman, Jordan, and made contact with someone who investigators claimed could help them travel to Yemen to participate in violent jihad.
Bell was being held Thursday at the Duval County Jail in Jacksonville on several state charges, including two counts of grand theft, organized fraud and knowingly and intentionally participating in a motor vehicle crash. According to jail records, Bell was arrested by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 29.
Ann Finnell, Bell’s attorney on the state charges, said she knew that her client “was being looked at” by federal authorities.
“I don’t have any information about what is alleged in this indictment,” she said.
Finnell said Bell grew up in Jacksonville and his parents live in the North Florida city.
It’s unclear whether Bell has retained an attorney on the federal charges. Finnell said it’s likely that a federal public defender will be appointed to him.