What could possibly have turned him against the country of his birth? Hmmm…I can’t imagine that the adherents of any religious ideology would want to do that, can you?
DECATUR, Ill. — The day before he was arrested Thursday on charges of plotting to blow up the federal building in Springfield, Michael C. Finton was working as a fry cook at Seals Fish & Chicken in this old factory town deep in the Illinois cornfields.
Tall and red-haired, Mr. Finton, 29, was known among co-workers as cheerful and polite, but unwavering when it came to religion and politics. He was especially critical of what he regarded as permissive society.
“He didn’t like America very much,” said Mariam Fadel, 18, who works the counter at Seals. “He didn’t think it was strict enough. He thought we needed more rules, so that people would behave.”
She recalled him talking about a troubled childhood that included running away from foster care. He also spoke of hopes to leave the United States someday, she said, and settle in Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Finton went by the nickname Talib Islam (student of Islam). The authorities say he had converted to the Islamic faith while in an Illinois prison from 2001 to 2006, serving a sentence for aggravated robbery and aggravated battery. Acquaintances say he had been living in Decatur, about 40 miles east of Springfield, for perhaps three years….
Mr. Finton came to the attention of federal authorities in August 2007 when a search of his vehicle turned up a letter about his dreams of being a shahid, or martyr. Officers also discovered a document he had written about “awaiting a return letter from John Walker Lindh,” the American who was captured fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. Mr. Finton traveled last year to Saudi Arabia, where he stayed about a month, and received about $1,400 from a man in that country, according to an affidavit filed by prosecutors.
With F.B.I. agents posing as low-level operatives for Al Qaeda, the surveillance culminated in a sting operation last Wednesday in which Mr. Finton drove a van he thought was loaded with explosives to the Paul Findley Federal Building in Springfield. Prosecutors say he parked and locked the vehicle, then moved a few blocks away before twice making cellphone calls he believed would trigger a blast that would kill or injure people inside the building.
According to the affidavit, Mr. Finton had expressed “his hope that the attack would cause American troops to be pulled back out of Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Mr. Finton has been charged with attempted murder of federal employees and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He appeared in Federal District Court in Springfield on Thursday in blue jeans and a button-down shirt, shackled at the hands and ankles. Court papers identify his lawyer as Bob Scherschlight, who could not be reached for comment.
Cue the obligatory shocked neighbors:
Neighbors in the apartment building where Mr. Finton lived, a few blocks from Millikin University, described him as a mild-mannered man and expressed shock at the charges.
Brandon Jackson, 19, said he would watch soccer on television with Mr. Finton, and play chess and card games. He said Mr. Finton would take him out for pizza.
“He was like my role model,” Mr. Jackson said. “He always wanted to talk about religion. He tried to keep me on track.”
Vivian Laster, who lives upstairs from Mr. Finton, said she was “baffled” that the “nice young man” could be involved in such a plot….
In court papers, the authorities said Mr. Finton told an acquaintance who was working as an F.B.I. informant that he wanted to go overseas and be a fighter for the jihad. According to the affidavit filed in court, Mr. Finton also told agents that bombing the federal building would be a “historic occasion” that would achieve his “biggest dream” in bringing down the United States government. Besides destroying the federal building, according to the charges, Mr. Finton had hoped to cause harm to the nearby office of Representative Aaron Schock, a first-term Republican.
Mr. Finton at times expressed suspicion that he was being “set-up” by undercover agents, according to court papers, but said he wished to continue with the plot because he would be “rewarded for his intentions.”
The government affidavit claims that Mr. Finton was recorded in July saying that he “hated this country and wanted to see the American government totally fallen.”
Mr. Finton sporadically attended Decatur’s only mosque, the Masjid Wali Hasan Islamic Center. Mosque leaders issued a statement condemning Mr. Finton’s actions. Mohammed Farooqi, an imam, said the small congregation was largely made up of immigrants from Pakistan and India who work as engineers, doctors and computer specialists.
“We talk and pray about harmony, peace and taking care of each other,” Mr. Farooqi said. If the charges against Mr. Finton prove to be true, Mr. Farooqi said, “then he hasn’t been learning” from the teachings.
Of course. They never do, do they?
The prime target of the alleged plot, the federal building in Springfield, a majestic gray stone and columned structure about five blocks from the Capitol, is the site of hundreds of workers. Mark Meng, the owner of CafÃ© Brio, a small restaurant in the shadow of the federal building, said he shuddered to ponder the consequences of an attack.
“It’s terrifying,” said Mr. Meng, who was at work at the time Mr. Finton is accused of having tried to set off the explosives nearby. “It reminds you there are evil people out there. But we cannot let them beat us.”