Shaker Masri was charged Wednesday with attempting to aid a terrorist organization and use a weapon of mass destruction outside the United States.
Authorities contend Masri told an FBI informant of his plans and asked the informant for money to help buy guns once they got there.
During a brief hearing, prosecutors told a judge that each of the charges carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
Masri says he's a U.S. citizen who was born in Alabama but raised abroad.
A federal criminal complaint alleges that Masri began espousing "increasingly violent" views to someone he befriended in early 2009, according to CBS 2 News station in Chicago.
He allegedly stated that we wanted to participate in a "jihad" against "infidels".
He was about to leave Chicago for Somalia when he was arrested Tuesday night, authorities said told CBS 2.
The charges come five months after a Chicago cab driver was charged with trying to provide funds to al Qaeda.