Man Charged in Ill. Courthouse Bomb Plot

This undated photo released Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009 by the Illinois Department of Corrections shows Michael C. Finton.
AP Photo/Ill. Dept of Corrections
A 29-year-old man who idolized American-born Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh has been arrested after attempting to detonate what he thought was a bomb inside a van outside a federal courthouse in the Illinois capital of Springfield, officials said Thursday.

Michael C. Finton, also known as Talib Islam, was arrested Wednesday and charged in a criminal complaint with one count of attempting to murder federal officers or employees and trying to detonate a weapon of mass destruction. Federal officials said the case has no connections with the major terrorism investigation under way in Colorado and New York.

"This alleged plot drives home the stark reality that we must avoid complacency and remain ever vigilant to the threats that violent extremists may pose to the public safety," Acting U.S. Attorney Jeffrey B. Lang said.

Back in 2001, Finton posted an Internet message declaring himself "an American Muslim...seeking to renounce my citizenship," writing he was "aware of the fact that the U.S.A. will soon be killing Muslims in America," reports CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian.

"Ultimately, the government was right to pursue this individual to some degree, but it's a question of whether or not they facilitated this a bit too much," said CBS News Homeland Security expert Paul Kurtz.

Finton appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Byron G. Cudmore in Springfield and said he was an unmarried, part-time cook at a fish and chicken restaurant in the central Illinois city of Decatur. He was ordered held in jail pending action by a grand jury.

A message was left at the office of Finton's defense attorney, Robert Scherschlight, a federal defender.

An FBI affidavit said that in the months leading up to the arrest, Finton had been closely monitored by agents including a special officer who posed as a low-level operative of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.

It said Finton was arrested after using a cell phone in an attempt to detonate a van filled with material that he had been told was explosive but was actually harmless. It was not immediately clear what the material was.

The affidavit traced two years of activities by Finton leading up to the alleged bomb plot and arrest. It said Finton's parole on a previous conviction was revoked in August 2007 and writings found afterward included a letter to Lindh, who was captured fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Finton told agents in January 2008 he idolized Lindh, the affidavit said. It was not immediately known what his previous conviction was.

The affidavit said that in March 2008 Finton received funds from Saudi Arabia and used them to travel to the kingdom for a monthlong visit. No other details were immediately available.

Finton was introduced to the FBI special officer posing as an al Qaeda operative in February, according to the affidavit.

Finton expressed a desire to receive military training and fight in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia or elsewhere, agents said. In the months that followed, he talked about an attack within the United States and ultimately settled on the Paul Findley courthouse.

He also said the nearby office of Republican U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock could be a "secondary target," the affidavit said.

In a statement Thursday, Schock said that "my office was notified today of the attempted terrorist attack on both the federal building and my congressional office in Springfield."

"I am incredibly grateful to the FBI for their fine work in preventing this terrorist attack," the statement said. Press secretary Dave Natonski said police had asked Schock not to say anything more about the matter.

The maximum penalty for attempted murder of federal officers and detonation of a weapon of mass destruction is life in prison.