Worthington man pleads guilty to conspiracy to commit terrorist acts

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A Worthington man Tuesday pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiring to commit violent jihad against Americans.

Forty-four year old Christopher Paul, with his long beard, wore a tan and navy prison suit as he entered Federal Court – his hands and feet were shackled. Paul, who was in court to plead guilty to conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction against Americans and U.S. property, smiled at one of his attorneys before the hearing.

Paul’s demeanor was somber, though, as Judge Gregory Frost asked him a series of questions to determine if he is of sound mind: are you addicted to narcotics, have you been using alcohol or pills, have you been diagnosed with a mental illness. Paul replied, “No, sir.”

Paul grew up in Worthington and graduated from Worthington High School. But Prosecutors say in the mid-1990s to early 2000, Paul trained with and then joined al-Qaeda. He’s accused of recruiting other people in Columbus to commit terrorism. Agents say he trained several members of his local jihadist group at Burr Oak State Park in Southeast Ohio.

FBI Special Agent Tisha Hartsough with the Columbus FBI Joint Terrorist Task Force, said Paul was known as an “expert” bomb-maker. She told the judge, Paul also traveled to Germany to teach his skills to a terrorist cell group. Hartsough said Paul was aware his training would be used to make explosive devices, like car bombs. The bombs would target Americans here in the US, Americans vacationing overseas as well as U.S. embassies and military bases.

Judge Frost asked Paul if any of those statements were untrue. He answered, “No, sir.”

Paul could get life in prison, but under the plea agreement he would serve 20 years.

U.S. attorney’s office spokesman Fred Alverson said although Judge Frost accepted Paul’s guilty plea he does not have to agree to the 20-year sentence.

“The next step will be for the court to conduct a pre-sentence investigation. The findings of that will be reviewed by Judge Frost. He’ll determine whether or not to accept the findings of the pre-sentence investigation, and whether or not to accept the 20-year sentence agreed to in the plea agreement,” Alverson said.

If Judge Frost does not accept the 20-year prison term the plea deal is thrown out and the case could go to trial.

Paul is the third Central Ohio man to plead guilty to terrorism related charges.