Crime

Columbia man arrested for attempting to help ISIS, Department of Justice says

Columbia man arrested for attempting...

COLUMBIA, Mo. - According to the Department of Justice, a mid-Missouri man was charged in a criminal complaint with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

Robert Lorenzo Hester, Jr., 25, of Columbia was charged in federal court based on his role in making preparations to launch a terrorist attack with persons he believed were associated with ISIS, who were actually undercover law enforcement personnel.

“As alleged in the complaint, Robert Lorenzo Hester, Jr. attempted to provide material support to ISIS by participating in what he believed would be a deadly attack committed in the name of the foreign terrorist organization,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord. 

FBI begins investigation

The investigation began when the FBI found Hester’s social media posts, in which he expressed hate towards the U.S. Hester used several online aliases, including “Mohammed Junaid Al Amreeki,” “Junaid Muhammad,” “Rabbani Junaid Muhammad,” “Rami Talib” and “Ali Talib Muhammad.” Hester's profile picture for two of his accounts on social media had the image of the Black Flag of Tawhid. 

The communication between the undercover agent and Hester started through a "social media platform" back in October 2016. The conversations continued for several months eventually moving to an encrypted messaging app.

Hester indicated through his statements and actions that he was ready and willing to participate and assist in the "plot." He obtained, at the undercover's request, items that he was told would be used as bomb components, including boxes of roofing nails. The undercover made it clear to Hester that the nails' purpose was to maximize the number of causalities. In addition, Hester showed the undercover agent guns, and pipes that would be used to construct bombs.

The potential attacks planned to happen on Presidents Day on buses, trains, and a train station in Kansas City.

On several dates and meetups with the undercover agent, Hester predicted that it was, "going to be a good day for Muslims worldwide." Referring to the attack as the "party plan."

Hester is a U.S. citizen who was born in Missouri. He was enlisted in the U.S. Army for less than a year, receiving a general discharge from service in 2013. That's not the same as an honorable discharge.

ABC 17 News was still working to find out the exact reason for Hester's discharge Tuesday. General discharge reasons can range from physical or mental conditions and bad conduct to something as simple as military personnel cutbacks.

Hester admitted to the agent he recently converted to Islam and attended a local mosque, stating how he wanted the hate for Muslims in the United States to stop. 

Hester was arrested on Feb. 17 and is being held in federal custody. He arrived at an arranged meeting with an undercover law enforcement employee. The criminal complaint was signed on Sunday and made public today, when Hester made his initial court appearance.

Columbia neighbors react

A Robert Lorenzo Hester Jr. is listed as living on the 1700 block of Hanover Boulevard in Columbia, where there was an FBI presence last Friday. 

Residents in the area were shocked to hear the news and said she was considering moving.

"I'm still stuttering, I'm still shocked," Loverna Shepherd said. "For real? On this block? Wow! This is my reaction when he (her fiance) was telling me that, I'm still like that now."

However, a close friend to Hester and neighbor painted a different picture of Hester.

"He is not a terrorist," Robert Shatlain said. "He is no way in God's green earth he's a terrorist. He is a loving husband, father, son and no one will ever convince me otherwise."

ABC 17 News knocked on the Hester residence's door, but the family had no comment at this time.

October 2016 knife incident

This was not Hester's first run-in with the law. In October 2016, he was accused of throwing a knife through a window at Columbia's Conley Road HyVee.

Court documents said Hester was in an argument with his wife at the time and had a gun in his diaper bag. He was charged with felony property damage and felony unlawful use of a weapon.

After the incident, Hester was released on bond and was being electronically monitored.

In January, a warrant was issued for Hester for violating bond conditions. His urine had tested positive for marijuana.


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