Trial date set for Cincinnati man accused in terrorist plot

A trial date has been set for Christopher Lee Cornell, the Cincinnati-area man accused of plotting to bomb the U.S. Capitol and then shoot fleeing government officials.

U.S. District Court Judge Sandra Beckwith today set 9 a.m. March 2 for Cornell’s trial. A pre-trial conference in the case is set for noon Feb. 24.

Cornell appeared Thursday in district court in Cincinnati, where he pleaded not guilty to three federal charges.

A federal grand jury indicted Cornell on Wednesday on those charges, which include attempted murder of government officials, solicitation to commit a violent crime and possession of firearms in the furtherance of attempted violence. Two of the charges carry a maximum 20-year sentence each and the one a possible lifetime imprisonment.

Cornell, 20, was arrested last week outside of a Colerain Twp. gun store moments after he purchased two semi-automatic rifles and 600 rounds of ammo. FBI agents had worked with an informant to track Cornell’s online movements, where he allegedly discussed a plan to “wage jihad” against the U.S.

If he’s found guilty of the crimes, the indictment handed down Wednesday would require Cornell to give up the ammo and guns he purchased to federal officials.

Magistrate Judge Stephanie Bowman ruled Thursday the court would not call Cornell by his adopted Muslim name, Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah.

“I have determined his legal name is Christoper Lee Cornell,” Bowman said. “The court will refer to him as such.”

Cornell’s attorney, Karen Savir, continued to call him by both names throughout the hearing.

Cornell’s father, John Cornell, smiled at his son Thursday when he was walked into the courtroom. During a detention hearing last week, John Cornell had shouted “Don’t trust anyone, Chris!” when his son entered the room. Court officials reminded visitors not to speak or yell during the proceedings.

Cornell is being held without bond in the Boone County Jail in Kentucky, where he was transferred this past weekend. Bowman verified Cornell’s attorney requested to be transferred out of the Butler County Jail because of conditions at the facility. The attorney had previously complained to the court he wasn’t allowed a prayer mat or clock and he was unnecessarily put in a suicide watch outfit, which doesn’t allow a prisoner to wear underwear.

His case was transferred Thursday to U.S. District Court Judge Beckwith, a President George H. W. Bush appointee.

Last summer, the FBI tapped an unnamed informant who talked with Cornell on social media and met with him in person. The agency alleges Cornell posted statements and videos online where he expressed support for the extremist terror group ISIS.

Cornell used social media, posting messages under the alias Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah. Court documents state he sent a tweet to the FBI source: “I believe we should just wage jihad under our own orders and plan attacks and everything.”

The former high school wrestler began learning about pipe bombs and plotted to put them near the U.S. Capitol, according to federal officials. He the allegedly planned to go on a shooting spree of government employees who were running from the scene. He met with the FBI confidential source Oct. 17 and 18 in Cincinnati to discuss the attack, and told the informant he needed weapons and had wanted to “move” in December, according to court documents.

The indictment against Cornell specifically states, “On or about August 2014 through January 2015 … defendant Christopher Cornell did attempt to unlawfully kill officers and employees of the United States while such officers and employees of the United States were engaged in and on account of their official duties, specifically by attempting to attack the United States Capitol Building and kill officers and employees of the United States.”

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