Over the two years that authorities tracked the man accused of trying to bomb Springfield’s federal courthouse, they gave him plenty of chances to drop the idea. According to a 25-page affidavit filed Thursday in support of the charges against Michael C. Finton, however, Finton, who allegedly said he wanted to make history, would not be deterred.
Over the two years that authorities tracked the man accused of trying to bomb Springfield’s federal courthouse, they gave him plenty of chances to drop the idea.
According to a 25-page affidavit filed Thursday in support of the charges against Michael C. Finton, however, Finton, who allegedly said he wanted to make history, would not be deterred.
Authorities say Finton tried Wednesday to ignite what he thought was a huge quantity of explosives contained in a van parked near Sixth and Monroe streets. Finton allegedly expected the resulting blast to kill everyone in the Paul Findley Federal Building, plus “take out” an office of U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock across the intersection.
As it turned out, however, law enforcement authorities had been aware of Finton’s plans for more than two years, the affidavit said. As a result, a man Finton allegedly thought was a low-level operative of the al-Qaida terror network was actually an undercover FBI special agent, and there were no explosives in the van.
Instead of the van blowing up when Finton dialed a cell phone number, agents swooped in to arrest him.
On Thursday, Finton, who authorities said also used the name “Talib Islam,” was brought before a federal judge in the same building he allegedly had targeted.
Finton appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Byron Cudmore and waived his right to a detention hearing. He remains in custody, charged with attempted murder of federal employees and attempted use of explosives against property of the United States. Convictions could bring a life sentence.
Finton, who wore blue jeans and a blue-and-white button-down shirt, was in handcuffs and had a chain connecting his hands and ankles during his brief court appearance Thursday.
Finton sat mainly expressionless while in court, answering “yes” or “no” to most of Cudmore’s questions. Finton identified himself as a part-time cook at a fish and chicken restaurant in Decatur. He said he is single, owns no real estate, and receives no government benefits.
On Wednesday, the affidavit said, an acquaintance of Finton’s who had been working with law enforcement drove Finton to Springfield. Shortly before noon, Finton called a second man, the FBI agent he thought was associated with al-Qaida.
They drove to the van, where the undercover agent instructed Finton how to arm the purported “bomb,” which Finton did. Finton drove the van and parked in a no-parking area in front of the northwest corner of the federal building.
He got out, locked the door, and got into the FBI agent’s car. A few blocks away, the agent handed Finton a cell phone and told him to call a number that would detonate the “bomb.”
Finton dialed the number, and when nothing happened, dialed it again. He was then arrested, officials said.
According to the affidavit, Finton considered the Findley building his primary target, while Schock’s Springfield office was a secondary target. That office is across Sixth and Monroe streets from the federal building.
“The criminal complaint alleges that Michael Finton … attempted to bomb a federal courthouse, but fortunately a coordinated undercover law enforcement effort was able to thwart his efforts and ensure no one was harmed,” David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a news release.
Finton, who had served a sentence in state prison for aggravated robbery and aggravated battery, was arrested in August 2007 for violating conditions of his supervised release. At that point, his parole officer found several of Finton’s writings, including a letter he had written to John Walker Lindh, an American who was captured fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and imprisoned on terrorism violations.
Over a period of months, Finton told a law enforcement source that he wanted to go overseas and become a jihadist fighter.
The affidavit states that both the cooperating source and later the undercover FBI agent gave Finton numerous chances to give up the idea of launching an attack. In July, the undercover source told Finton “it was not too late to pull out.”
“Finton said he did not want to,” the affidavit says. “Finton said that even if the whole thing was a set-up, he would be rewarded for his intentions the same as if he completed his mission, even if he received the death penalty.”
Finton at least twice said he suspected he was being set up by law enforcement agents. However, he said, he “knew it was not because they (law enforcement authorities) were not that smart,” the document says.
At another point, Finton “said the attack would be an historic occasion. … Finton said it was his biggest dream to be the first domino to fall, to be the one who brought the whole thing crashing down. He said that if his deeds were accepted (by God), then his sins would be forgiven because of his intention. He spoke again of his hope that the attack would cause American troops to be pulled back out of Afghanistan and Iraq.”
In discussing the explosion Finton allegedly hoped to create, the affidavit says, “… Finton said that everyone working in the federal building is a federal employee. He said that, while they were doing everything they could to avoid collateral civilian casualties, such casualties would be inevitable and justified. He said that everyone in the federal building would be killed.”
Finton reportedly told the government source that he “would rather die as a shaheed (Arabic for martyr) than to try to live his life here. He said his goal was to do something that was going to be a catalyst for establishing a Muslim Caliphate. He said he wanted to be (sic) a historical event.”
Finton reportedly converted to Islam during his prison stay. The name “Talib Islam,” a nickname Finton used in Muslim circles, is Arabic for “student of Islam.”
The affidavit also says Finton visited Saudi Arabia in the spring of 2008 and told the law-enforcement source that his trip to that country was paid for by a “shaykh” who wanted Finton to marry his daughter. Finton said he was engaged to the daughter, according to the affidavit.
The government was represented at Thursday’s hearing by assistant U.S. attorney David Risley. The investigation was conducted by the Springfield FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and other law enforcement agencies.
Cudmore named Bob Scherschlight, an assistant federal defender, as Finton’s lawyer.
The arrest of Finton is not related to an ongoing terror investigation in New York and Colorado, the news release said. Sharon Paul, spokeswoman for acting U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Lang, said the affidavit does not allege that Finton was conspiring with anyone other than the two undercover contacts.
Bernard Schoenburg can be reached at (217) 788-1540 or email@example.com.