JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – A 19-year-old Florida man accused of conspiring to aid al-Qaida and traveling to the Middle East to join terrorist groups in Yemen waived his bail hearing Thursday.
Shelton Thomas Bell, of Jacksonville, is charged with two federal counts of trying to provide material support to terrorists. His attorney said there was no need to decide bail on the federal charges because he is already in state custody on grand theft charges. Bell is accused of stealing money and computers to finance his trip to the Middle East.
A judge granted public defender Lisa Call's request that Bell be allowed to re-address the federal bail if anything changes in the state's case. If convicted of the federal crimes, Bell could face up to 30 years in prison.
An indictment said Bell planned to join Ansar Al-Sharia, which is an alias for al-Qaida in the Middle East region. The group has taken responsibility for multiple attacks on Yemeni forces, including a suicide bombing during a parade in May 2012, which killed more than 100 Yemeni soldiers.
Investigators said between May and September 2012, Bell participated in physical, firearm and other training in Florida to prepare for armed conflict. Bell is also accused of soliciting others, including young people, to travel overseas with him to train.
In September 2012, Bell and a juvenile went to Amman, Jordan, and made contact with someone who investigators said could help them travel to Yemen to participate in violent jihad. The indictment does not say whether Bell ever entered Yemen.
Bell is being held at the Duval County Jail in Jacksonville on state charges, including two counts of grand theft, organized fraud and knowingly and intentionally participating in a motor vehicle crash. According to jail records, Bell was arrested Jan. 29.
Arrest reports say he built up a computer-repair business with Michael Papagiannakis and opened a booth at a flea market. Ultimately, authorities said, Bell disappeared with several computers and thousands of dollars in cash from Papagiannakis.
Police suspect Bell later sold the computers.
Papagiannakis told police he had known Bell for about a year and they had an arrangement in which Papagiannakis would buy broken computers, give them to Bell to fix, and they would split the profits.
Bell told Papagiannakis he had a friend who could buy refurbished computers and he needed $9,000 to get them a cheaper price, but only had $4,500. Papagiannakis agreed to give Bell the other $4,500. After Bell stalled several times, telling Papagiannakis the deal was still in the works, Bell disappeared.
Papagiannakis said he went to Bell's grandmother's house and was told Bell had bought a one-way ticket to Jerusalem.
Papagiannakis said he lost $4,500 and up to 30 laptop computers and 30 desktops in his dealings with Bell. He told police he thought Bell sold the computers to a large Jacksonville computer store.
Bell's arraignment in federal court is Monday.