Robert Lorenzo Hester, Jr., 25, of Jefferson City, Missouri,
was charged in a criminal complaint with attempting to provide material support
to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist
organization. Hester 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.
The announcement was made by Acting Assistant Attorney
General for National Security Mary B. McCord, U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson for
the Western District of Missouri and Special Agent in Charge Eric Jackson of
the FBI’s Kansas City Field Office.
“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 McCord.
“Countering terrorist threats remains the highest priority of the National
Security Division, and we will continue our efforts to identify and hold
accountable those who seek to commit acts of terrorism within our borders.”
“First on social media, then during face-to-face meetings
with an undercover FBI employee, this defendant repeatedly expressed his intent
to engage in acts of violent jihad against the United States,” said U.S.
Attorney Dickson. “He believed he was part of an ISIS-sponsored terrorist
attack that would result in the deaths and injuries of many innocent victims.
He readily participated in the preparations for an attack, provided materials
and resources for an attack and voiced his intent to carry out an attack. I
commend the FBI for protecting the public from a security threat.”
“Terrorism knows no demographic boundaries and remains the
FBI’s top priority,” said Special Agent in Charge Jackson. “The arrest of
Hester is the culmination of an extensive FBI investigation and demonstrates
the challenges law enforcement faces in identifying individuals intent on
Hester, who remains in federal custody, was arrested on
February 17, when 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.
According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal
complaint, throughout the investigation, Hester expressed his interest in and
exhibited his willingness to commit violence in support of ISIS – and he
attempted to provide material support to ISIS by assisting in what he believed
would be a murderous terrorist bombing and gunfire attack committed in the name
of the foreign terrorist organization.
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 mid-2013.
FBI agents undertook a review of Hester’s publicly available
posts on multiple social media accounts in September 2016. On Oct. 3, 2016,
Hester was arrested by the Columbia, Missouri, Police Department in an
unrelated case and remained in state custody until he was released on bond on
Oct. 13, 2016. His bond conditions included electronic monitoring. While Hester
was being monitored, FBI undercover employees maintained regular contact with
him via an encrypted messaging app and text messages, and met with him on
On January 24, Hester pleaded guilty in state court to
property damage and unlawful use of a weapon and was released on his own
recognizance. Hester was no longer on electronic monitoring after that date.
FBI undercover personnel continued to meet in person with Hester and
communicate with him electronically.
Hester agreed to meet again with an FBI undercover employee
on February 17. When Hester arrived for that meeting, he was arrested. Hester
was the sole subject of this undercover investigation.
According to the affidavit, the investigation began when the
FBI became aware (through multiple confidential sources) of Hester’s social
media posts, in which he expressed animus towards the U.S. and suggested an
adherence to radical Islamic ideology and a propensity for violence. Hester
used several online aliases, including “Mohammed Junaid Al Amreeki,” “Junaid
Muhammad,” “Rabbani Junaid Muhammad,” “Rami Talib” and “Ali Talib Muhammad.”
On Oct. 3, 2016, Hester was arrested by Columbia police
officers after an incident in the parking lot of a grocery store. Hester, who
appeared to be in an argument with his wife, threw a folded pocket knife
through a plate-glass window near the entrance of the store. When store
employees confronted Hester, he assumed an aggressive stance and forcefully
placed his hand into the diaper bag he was carrying in a manner that appeared
to be reaching for a weapon. Police officers later recovered a 9mm handgun from
the diaper bag. Hester was in custody until Oct. 13, 2016, when he was released
on bond and placed on electronic monitoring.
On Oct. 15, 2016, two days after Hester’s release on bond,
an FBI employee using an undercover identity contacted Hester by private
message. The FBI employee had accepted a friend request from Hester the day
before Hester was arrested for the grocery store incident. They continued to
communicate via social media, text and an encrypted messaging app, the
affidavit says, during which Hester presented himself as a security threat,
stating, for example, that the U.S. government should be “overthrown,” and suggesting
“hitting” the government “hard,” while noting that it would not be “a one man
job.” Hester identified categories of potential targets for attack and said he
wanted a “global jihad.” Hester stated that he was trying to find like-minded
people to help. When the undercover employee mentioned “brothers,” Hester said
he wanted to meet them.
Hester then established that he would act on the statements
he made online. In early November 2016, the affidavit says, Hester made
arrangements with the undercover employee – whom he never met in person – to
meet with “one of the brothers.” The undercover employee arranged this meeting
with another undercover FBI employee.
During a January 31 meeting, the undercover employee
provided Hester with a list of items to purchase, including 9-volt batteries,
duct tape, copper wire and roofing nails. The undercover employee implied that
these items would be used to make bombs, the affidavit says, stating that those
materials are needed “to make … things … to bring some kind of destruction.”
Hester allegedly responded by stating: “I’m just ready to help. I’m ready to
help any way I can.” When the undercover employee stated that what they were
planning was “going to bring them to their knees … and then they gonna know to
fear Allah,” Hester expressed his anticipation by stating: “I can’t wait. I
Hester and the undercover employee agreed to meet again at
Hester’s residence the next day. When the undercover employee arrived, the
affidavit says, Hester gave him the items he had purchased. The undercover
employee told Hester they were planning something “10 times more” than the
Boston Marathon bombing, and Hester expressed his approval. The undercover
employee told Hester that they were planning on “killing a lot of people.” The
undercover employee told Hester that he could “walk away,” the affidavit says,
but Hester said, “I’m down.” The undercover employee told Hester they were
going to “wage all kinda war,” and Hester again expressed his approval.
The undercover employee then pulled back blankets in the
back of the SUV to show Hester three AK-47 style rifles and two .45-caliber
handguns. The undercover employee told Hester that, while they had plenty of
firearms, they needed more ammunition. Hester stated that he could not purchase
ammunition because of his state charges, but that he had a friend that could
get ammunition for him. Hester stated that he would have money to purchase
ammunition after he received his tax refund and after he was paid in a couple
The undercover employee also opened a backpack, which
contained pieces of pipe with end caps attached in the manner of pipe bombs,
along with cord-like safety fuse, stating, “these are bombs right here.” The
undercover employee explained that the duct tape Hester provided would be used
to tape the bombs together, which Hester acknowledged, and that the nails
Hester provided would “cut peoples’ heads off.” Hester responded: “Oh yeah. I
know,” indicating that he understood the nails were to be used as shrapnel for
The undercover employee stated that they had more backpacks
that they were going to put in different locations. Hester acknowledged that he
understood, and stated that they had to be smarter than the Boston Marathon
bombers. Hester again confirmed that he was “down,” the affidavit says, and
that he understood they had to “lay low” and act in a manner to avoid
The undercover employee stated that they were going to
“strike fear in all these infidel hearts,” and Hester responded that he agreed
and that he was ready.
According to the affidavit, Hester contacted the first
undercover employee via text message on February 2, and indicated he would
“have some more stuff … in a couple of weeks when I get paid.” Hester asked the
undercover employee, “When you talk to the brother again let him know I’ll have
some more gifts in a couple of weeks.”
On February 4, 6, 7, 11 and 16 Hester communicated with an
undercover employee via an encrypted messaging app. Hester said that he was
excited, that he was “happy to be part” of it, and that it was “time they
answer for their atrocities.” Hester predicted that it was “going to be a good
day for Muslims worldwide.” Hester asked how the “party plan” was coming along
and reiterated that he would get more “supplies.” The undercover employee told
Hester that the “party” would take place on Presidents’ Day and that the
targets of the operation would include busses, trains and a train station in
Kansas City. Hester said, according to the affidavit, that it felt “good to
help strike back at the true terrorist.”
On February 17, Hester met again with the second undercover
employee and brought two additional boxes of
roofing nails. Hester accompanied the undercover employee to a nearby
storage facility, where the two examined the security cameras. Hester was
arrested shortly thereafter.
The charge contained in this complaint and the assertions in
the supporting affidavit are simply an accusation, and not evidence of guilt. A
defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of
This case was investigated by the FBI and is being
prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian P. Casey and David Raskin, with
the assistance of Trial Attorney Jennifer Levy of the National Security
Division’s Counterterrorism Section.