Plea deal for U.S. man accused of aiding Somalia's al Shabaab

CHICAGO Thu Jul 12, 2012 2:51pm EDT

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - A U.S. citizen accused of providing material support to Somalia's al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants by intending to become a suicide bomber has reached a tentative plea deal with prosecutors, his lawyer and prosecutors said on Thursday.

A judge scheduled a July 20 change-of-plea hearing in U.S. District Court in Chicago for Shaker Masri, who formerly worked for a company that translated the Islamic holy book, the Koran, into English, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said.

Masri's lawyer, Thomas Durkin, and prosecutors told a judge they had worked out a plea agreement in principle, and that Masri was likely to change his not guilty plea to guilty. He did not say what charges Masri would plead guilty to.

Masri was not in court. He has been in custody since his August 2010 arrest, which occurred a few hours before he was scheduled to fly to California with an ultimate destination of Somalia, according to court documents.

Masri was recorded in telephone calls with a paid FBI informant explaining how he planned to undergo weapons training in Mexico and then become a suicide bomber to participate in a "jihad," or holy war, to kill people he termed infidels, the court documents said.

Masri was due to go to trial in September, and had faced up to 15 years in prison on each of two counts of providing material support to al Shabaab, an Islamist group allied with al Qaeda, the U.S. attorney's spokesman said.

In 2008, the U.S. State Department designated al Shabaab as a foreign terrorist organization, describing it as a violent extremist group. U.S. officials have said many of the group's senior leaders are believed to have trained and fought with al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

(Reporting By Andrew Stern; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Vicki Allen)

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