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Ex-US soldier who wanted to help al-Qaeda affiliate sentenced to prison

A former U.S. Army specialist who admitted to trying to aid the al-Shabaab militant group — the al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia that claimed responsibility for the horrific mall siege in Kenya — was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison.

Craig Baxam, 24, of Laurel, Md., was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Baltimore after pleading guilty to trashing records stored on his home computer that might have been used as evidence in a terrorism probe, the Justice Department said.

Baxam was arrested by Kenyan police in December 2011 as he tried to cross the border into Somalia to join al-Shabaab — a loosely affiliated band of militia insurgents in southern Somalia that has ties to the al-Qaeda terror network.

The rebels shocked the world in September when they stormed the Westgate shopping complex in Nairobi, slaughtering at least 67 people.

The Justice Department said Baxam told FBI agents in Kenya that he had destroyed his personal computer to keep U.S. authorities off his trail and cover his tracks, according to Reuters.

Baxam joined the Army in 2007 and was deployed to Iraq. He re-enlisted in August 2010 and was deployed to South Korea for one year, but he left just one month before completing his enlistment, according to an FBI affidavit cited by Reuters.

He converted to Islam during his last days in the U.S. military, the affidavit said.

The affidavit also said that Baxam claimed he wished to die "with a gun in my hand" — and that he would have no qualms dying while defending Islam. 

Reuters contributed to this report.