An American-born citizen was arrested Friday for allegedly plotting an ISIS style President’s Day attack “ten times” worse than the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people and injured more than 260 others.
Robert Lorenzo Hester Jr., 25, of Columbia, Missouri, was taken into federal custody as the result of an FBI undercover operation that started months ago. Authorities said Hester had been communicating with two undercover FBI agents, who he thought to be ISIS sympathizers, since October to carry out terror attacks on buses, trains and a train station in Kansas City, Missouri, the Kansas City Star reported.
“First on social media, then during face-to-face meetings with the undercover FBI employees, this defendant repeatedly expressed his intent to engage in acts of violent jihad against the United States,” U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri Tammy Dickinson said. “He believed he was part of an ISIS-sponsored terrorist attack that would result in the deaths and injuries of many innocent victims.”
Hester joined the U.S. Army but received a general discharge in mid-2013, according to KSHB-TV. An Army spokeswoman told the Star that a general discharge typically means the individual’s “conduct and/or performance of duty were not so meritorious to warrant an honorable discharge.”
“Recipients of general discharges usually have engaged in minor misconduct or have received nonjudicial punishment under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” the spokeswoman added.
The FBI started looking into Hester’s actions in September after he allegedly wrote on Facebook that the U.S. government should be “overthrown” and advocated for “hitting” the U.S. government “hard.” Hester allegedly posted the statements under the alias “Rami Talib.”
The same Facebook page featured a photo of who the Kansas City Star reported to be Hester and his two children.
Another post, dated July 5, read, “3 things I will fight for Allah Islam and my family everything else is irrelevant.”
Then, in October, Hester was arrested after getting into a fight with his wife. KSHB reported that Hester threw a pocket knife through a store window. Employees reportedly approached Hester, but that’s when they said he appeared to reach for a 9mm handgun from a diaper bag, which police later confiscated.
Hester was arrested following the incident but released on $4,500 bond. Hester was required to wear an ankle bracelet and was not allowed to possess a gun as the two conditions of his release.
It was around the same time last year that federal authorities said Hester sent a Facebook friend request to an one undercover FBI agent using another alias, “Ali Talib Muhammad.” The undercover agent private messaged Hester two days later to arrange for a Jan. 31 meeting, where Hester was given a list of items the undercover agent said would be used to “bring some kind of destruction.”
The items included 9-volt batteries, duct tape, copper wire and roofing nails.
Hester reportedly went out and purchased the items and returned with them to another meeting with the undercover agent.
That’s where Hester allegedly expressed to the undercover agent his willingness to “help any way I can.” Hester also reportedly told the agent he “[couldn’t] wait” to “bring them to their knees.”
According to the affidavit obtained from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, the agent told Hester during the same meeting that they were planning something “ten times more” than the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and that they were planning on “killing a lot of people.”
Hester allegedly replied by saying, “I’m down.”
The undercover agent then described plans to plant backpacks loaded with explosives in various locations around their intended target.
“Hester stated that they had to be smarter than the Boston Marathon bombers, and stated that he remembered all of his military training, including how to clear a room or building, how to use weapons, and military movement. Hester again confirmed that he was ‘down’ and that he understood that they had to ‘lay low’ and act in a manner to avoid detection,” the affidavit said.
Communications between Hester and undercover agents further revealed Hester referring to the plotted attack as something that would make for a “good day for Muslims worldwide” and that after the attack was over “they will know that the Islamic State Caliphate has spread into the United States.”
The undercover agent told Hester over social media Feb. 16 that the plan was to attack buses, trains and a train station four days later — President’s Day — in Kansas City.
The very next day, Hester met a second undercover FBI agent at an undisclosed storage facility that the first agent had mentioned previously.
Authorities then arrested Hester at the storage facility and charged him with attempting to provide material support to ISIS, a charge that carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.