Nobody could’ve predicted the mop-topped, baby-faced teen pictured in a small town Ohio high-school yearbook would go on to become a wannabe disciple of ISIS. But that’s what happened to Christopher Lee Cornell.
His principal remembered Cornell as an obedient kid who never caused trouble. “Christopher was not a disruption or a discipline problem in the school,” Oak Hills Principal John Stoddard said in a released statement to several news outlets.
Cornell’s parents pegged him as a “momma’s boy” whose main pal was the pet “kitty cat.”
The studious, reserved young man who had lettered in wrestling was somebody that toed the line. He could have been many things in life other than a failed terrorist.
Yet, whatever dreams Cornell aspired to attain when he crossed the commencement stage in 2012 were quickly squandered this week.
That’s when Cornell became one of “the highest profiled prisoners” guards at the Butler County Jail ever had in their custody. In a press conference Thursday, the local sheriff made the one-time momma’s boy into a superjihadi mastermind.
“One thing that we think and we know that he’s doing is he’s watching everything around him, and he’s quite capable of reading lips,” the sheriff said. “He’s reading lips, and he listens very intently, and I’m sure that he knows that he’s got the attention of the entire country and other countries.”
The day before, the 20-year-old Cornell danced out from a local gun shop lugging two spanking new M-15 semi-automatic rifles and 600 rounds of ammo. The feds were waiting in the parking lot.
They accused Cornell, who was essentially reborn as a Muslim and adopted the alias “Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah,” of being on the precipice of completing a personal mission of martyrdom.
In his mugshot from Butler County Jail, Cornell can be seen wearing a Salafi-style beard. He’s being held without bail after being charged for allegedly planning to wreak havoc in the nation’s capital.
According to the criminal complaint filed Wednesday in the Southern District of Ohio, Christopher Cornell had been conspiring to attack innocents in Washington D.C. with another man. Turns out, that other man was an FBI informant colluding after getting pinched on an unrelated arrest. They were slated to march to the nation’s capital to “detonate pipe bombs… then use firearms to shoot and kill employees and officials.”
It’s a charge his father, for one, finds ridiculous. John Cornell even went so far as to say his son was entrapped by the FBI. “There’s no way he could have carried out any kind of terrorist plot—no way,” he said. “I think Chris was coerced into a lot of this.”
While the alleged homegrown ISIS sympathizer wasn’t officially directed by any terrorist faction overseas, Cornell messaged with the informant that they were blessed to go forward and kill at will; they were essentially their own Ohio-based ISIS annex. “I believe that we should just wage jihad under our own orders and plant attacks and everything,” Cornell allegedly posted over one of his Twitter accounts.
He added that there needn’t be any formal order from the rogue Middle East terrorist group ISIS. “We already got a thumbs up from the Brothers over there and Anwar al-Awlaki before his martyrdom and many others,” Cornell wrote.
It’s an ironic thing to say, since Awlaki was a bigwig in the Yemeni affiliate of al Qaeda, whose leaders are in direct conflict with ISIS’s highers-up. But as we saw in the recent attacks on Paris, the street-level thugs don’t seem to get the distinction. They just want to kill.
So while Cornell likely wasn’t able to connect with ISIS bosses, in his heart he believed he was doing their bidding from the Ohio pastures of Green Township.
“I believe we should just meet up and make our own group in alliance with the Islamic State here and plan operations ourselves,” he said, according to the complaint.
The messaging progressed into a meet. The informant and Cornell’s first face-to-face occurred in Cincinnati on Oct. 17, but Cornell kept his jihad plans close to his vest. The papers say “he did not want to reveal his plans at the first meeting.”
Instead, they got inspired by watching jihadi videos and schooled themselves on ways to assemble bombs on Cornell’s laptop. They met again in November in Cincinnati and Cornell announced his disdain for the nation’s lawmakers, who he allegedly called “enemies” and started unearthing the blueprints of the scheme: to “conduct an attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.”
Cornell hoarded his savings, was keeping copious notes on various government buildings he’d intend to target, and was advancing in his bombmaking acumen. He then intended to head to DC “to execute the plan,” according to the court papers.
As the final stages of Cornell’s DC rampage were nearing, the feds’ informant set up one more meet at the Point Blank Gun Range & Gun Shop.
At around 11 a.m., Cornell dropped $1,900 and purchased the heavy artillery.
But the feds had already readied for the buy and were ready in the parking lot to catch their man. “We knew [law enforcement] was in place,” Tom Willingham, president and CEO of the gun shop, said.
No flags were raised when the store clerk punched Cornell’s name into the national background check system.
Once Cornell was outside and about to jet off to DC, the feds dashed in and collared him. More on the would-be jihadi from small-town Ohio has come out since the arrest.
The quick conversion from Christopher Lee Cornell to Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah was instant and very recent. Cornell’s father said one day his son showed up and was a Muslim. According to one local TV station, John says Christopher Lee only started attending mosques in the last six to eight weeks—months after the government began putting him under surveillance, in other words.
But his leanings for Islam grew at a heavy rate. “He said, ‘Dad, you just have to let people believe in what they believe. I have my beliefs, and you just have to let people believe what they believe in,’” his father told WCPO-TV.
One day before Cornell was cuffed by the feds, his father said he’d prayed at a local mosque, and later left a cryptic note to his parents. “It was just a simple note saying he had decided to move in with a friend,” John Cornell told CNN.
Cornell’s dad wondered why his son was able to freely and easily implement his plan into an actionable attack. “Why didn’t they arrest him then?” John Cornell said. “Why would they have let it go this far?”
The social-media footprint Cornell left behind was allegedly a Twitter handle @ISBlackFlags, which included the hashtags Islam, Khalifah, Sharia Kik and his new name, “Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah.”
Before he tried his hand at domestic terrorism, Cornell made made a go of it as the town’s resident 9/11 Truther.
In fact, on Sept. 13, 2013, Cornell stood tall carrying a white poster board that read: “9/11 Was an Inside Job” during an emotional ceremony being held by local police in the young man’s native Green Township.
Cornell stood there mocking the moment even as various metal pieces from the razed World Trade Center Towers were being presented to the town as precious keepsakes.