American Arrested for Attempting to Bomb Federal Courthouse in Illinois
Update: Michael Finton was sentenced to 28 years in prison on May 9, 2011.
Posted: September 25, 2009
Federal agents have arrested an Illinois resident who attempted to detonate explosives at the federal courthouse in Springfield.
Michael Finton, 29, was indicted on October 7, 2009, for attempted murder of a federal officer or employee and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction against property owned by the United States. He was arrested on September 23, 2009, for plotting to bomb the federal building in Springfield and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
Finton, also known as Talib Islam (Arabic for "student of Islam"), parked a van containing what he understood to be one ton of explosive material in front of the Paul Findley Federal Building and Courthouse in Springfield, Illinois, according to court documents. After exiting the van, Finton allegedly got into another vehicle driven by an undercover FBI officer. When the men were blocks away from the federal building, Finton called a cell phone to remotely detonate the purported bomb. He was immediately arrested thereafter.
Finton's alleged plan to bomb the Springfield federal building is part of the growing trend of American Muslim extremists involved in terrorist plots against the U.S. who are motivated by a hatred of Israel.
According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Finton told a law enforcement source of his desire to obtain military training and travel to Gaza to fight the Israelis on behalf of the Palestinians. In January 2009, Finton allegedly stated ambitions to join Palestinian terrorist organizations like Hamas or Islamic Jihad. He previously wrote on a Muslim social-networking Web site that he disliked "Israel and anyone that supports it."
Finton has also admitted that he preferred to die as a shahid, or martyr, than live his life in the U.S. According to the affidavit, "he said his goal was to do something that was going to be the catalyst for establishing a Muslim Caliphate. He said he wanted to be a historical event."
In February 2009, the law enforcement source introduced Finton to an undercover FBI agent posing as a low-level Al Qaeda operative. According to the affidavit, Finton, who allegedly said he would kiss the hand of Osama bin Laden if they ever met, told the undercover agent that he wanted to receive military training and "carry a gun on the front lines" as needed in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia or any other location.
Finton's Myspace profile contains a YouTube video that criticizes the U.S. government and includes various clips of "mujahideen," or holy warriors, constructing and planting roadside bombs and rockets, presumably to attack American soldiers in Iraq.
The affidavit alleges that Finton discussed locations for potential terrorist attacks in the U.S., suggesting the federal building in Springfield as the primary target. As a secondary target, Finton allegedly proposed the office of U.S. Congressman Aaron Schock. In previous conversations, Finton spoke about the ease at which a group of people posing as FBI agents could kidnap a U.S. senator, shoot him in the back of the head and post a video-taped recording of the incident on the Internet.
Finton allegedly conducted surveillance of the federal building in July 2009 and later used the Google Earth application on the Internet to view his targeted location. The affidavit also alleges that Finton suggested using two remotely-detonated car bombs for the attack: the first to cause initial damage and the second to attack responders. If the bomb was big enough, Finton argued, it could take out part of the federal building and all of the Congressman's office across the street. Although Finton had previously condemned attacks that targeted civilians, he ultimately conceded that civilian casualties were inevitable and justified.
The following month, Finton, with the help of the undercover agent, allegedly made a video recording to be viewed by his Al Qaeda "brothers." In that and two other videos made days later, Finton explained the political and religious justifications for his attack against the U.S. and claimed that the U.S. is at war with Islam.
According to the affidavit, Finton expressed hatred towards America and wanted to see the fall of the American government and Western democracy. He projected that an attack on American soil – similar to the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India – would either cause the U.S. government to fall or force Washington to pull American troops and resources out of Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries to protect the homeland.
The economic impact of such an event, according to Finton, would force the U.S. to curtail its financial support of Israel, and the "big bully behind Israel (the United States) would not be there anymore," according to the affidavit.
Finton, who converted to Islam while serving a 4-year prison term for aggravated assault, was again arrested in August 2007 for committing a parole violation. After his arrest, authorities recovered various letters written by Finton, including one to John Walker Lindh, an American citizen currently serving a prison sentence for fighting with the Taliban. According to the affidavit, Finton later admitted that he "idolized" Lindh.
In another letter, Finton allegedly wrote: "Death is a blessing for the mu'min (believer). Insha Allah, we all dream of being the shahid (martyr). Live like we will die tomorrow, work like we will never die."
Travel records indicate that Finton traveled to Saudi Arabia in April 2008. According to the affidavit, Finton said the trip was paid for by a Saudi sheikh who wanted Finton to marry his daughter. Finton, who returned to the U.S. a month later, expressed plans to go back to the Saudi Arabia after the attack on the Illinois courthouse to wed his now-fiancé.
Several other American Muslim extremists have been charged, convicted or sentenced on terror-related charges in 2009. For more information, see: Criminal Proceedings in 2009.