WASHINGTON, D.C. (KPLR) – A 25-year-old former U.S. Army soldier was charged over the weekend with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization.
According to prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, and the FBI, Robert Lorenzo Hester Jr. was arrested February 17 following a months-long investigation. The 24-page indictment alleges Hester was in contact with undercover FBI employees and thought he was helping them plan and eventually execute a plot to bomb transportation targets in Kansas City on President’s Day.
Hester was charged Sunday and made his first court appearance Tuesday. If convicted, Hester faces up to 20 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release.
The FBI first became of aware of Hester in September 2016 following confidential sources informing them of troubling social media posts. The indictment said Hester used multiple online aliases, including “Mohammed Junaid Al Amreeki,” “Junaid Muhammad,” “Rabbani Junaid Muhammad,” “Rami Talib,” and “Ali Talib Muhammad.”
Prosecutors said Hester communicated with undercover FBI agents online and in face-to-face meetings, and “readily participated in the preparations for an attack, provided materials and resources for an attack, and voiced his intent to carry out an attack.”
Hester is a U.S. citizen born in Missouri. He served in the U.S. Army for less than year before receiving a general discharge in mid-2013. It was not disclosed where Hester was stationed or may have served.
On October 3, 2016, Hester was arrested in Columbia, Missouri following an incident in the parking lot of a local grocery store. Hester was said to be arguing with his wife when he threw a folded pocket knife through a window near the store entrance. Grocery store employees came out to confront Hester, who then reached into a diaper bag he was carrying as if to imply he had a weapon. Columbia police responded to the scene and discovered a 9mm handgun in the diaper bag. Hester was released on bond October 13 and placed on electronic monitoring.
Two days after his release on bond, prosecutors said an undercover FBI officer accepted a friend request from Hester and the two began communicating about attacking the federal government. Hester allegedly stated the U.S. government needed to be “overthrown” and that such an action would not just be “a one man job.”
In November, the undercover officer arranged a meeting with Hester and another undercover agent. During a meeting at the end of January, one of the undercover employees provided Hester with a list of items to purchase that would be used to make pipe bombs.
On January 24, Hester appeared in state court over the incident in the grocery store parking lot. He pleaded guilty to property damage and unlawful use of a weapon. He was released on his own recognizance and no longer required to wear an electronic monitoring device.
The indictment alleges the undercover officers told Hester multiple times that he could “walk away” from the plot or was informed such a mission would harm or kill a large number of people. The agents talked of an attack “10 times more” devastating than the Boston Marathon bombing, this one targeting buses, trains, and a train station in Kansas City on Monday, February 20. Hester is said to have approved of the destruction and harm and reaffirmed his commitment to the attack.
Hester met with the second undercover officer on February 17 with additional bomb-making materials. He accompanied the officer to a storage facility and was arrested a short time later.