A Moroccan immigrant was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in a suicide bombing at the U.S. Capitol.
Amine El Khalifi, 29, of Alexandria, Virginia, was arrested yesterday in a parking garage near the Capitol after meeting with an undercover agent posing as a member of an armed extremist group, according to an affidavit filed with a criminal complaint in federal court in Alexandria.
El Khalifi was taken into custody as he began walking toward the Capitol carrying a MAC-10 automatic weapon and wearing a vest containing what he believed to be a functioning bomb, according to the affidavit by Steven Hersem, an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The weapons had been made inoperable by investigators, prosecutors said.
“El Khalifi allegedly believed he was working with al-Qaeda and devised the plot, the targets and the methods on his own,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride of Alexandria said in an e-mailed statement.
He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
At a hearing yesterday in Alexandria, El Khalifi was ordered to be held pending a preliminary and detention hearing scheduled for Feb. 22, according to Peter Carr, a spokesman for MacBride.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, told reporters he wasn’t aware of the arrest. House and Senate members were at the Capitol yesterday to pass an extension of a payroll tax cut.
“Thanks to the hard work of the FBI and the U.S. Capitol Police a suspected terrorist was thwarted in his attempt to attack the U.S. Capitol today,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
The arrest resulted from an undercover terrorism investigation during which El Khalifi was “closely monitored by law enforcement,” according to a Justice Department statement.
El Khalifi entered the U.S. in June 1999 on a tourist visa that expired later that year. He has lived in the U.S. illegally since then, according to the affadavit.
In January 2011, the FBI learned through a confidential informant that El Khalifi met with other individuals at a residence in Arlington, Virginia, where one person brought out firearms, including an AK-47 assault rifle. That person said the “war on terrorism” was a “war on Muslims” and that the group needed to be ready for war, according to the affidavit. El Khalifi allegedly expressed agreement with those statements.
In December, El Khalifi traveled to Baltimore with an individual known as “Hussien,” who claimed to be an al-Qaeda operative, to meet someone whom he believed was associated with an armed extremist group. That person, who went by “Yusuf,” was an undercover law enforcement officer, FBI agent Hersem said in the affidavit.
El Khalifi allegedly told Hussien and Yusuf on at least three occasions that he wanted to attack various sites, including an office building used by the U.S. military and a synagogue. He also said he was interested in an operation in which he would use a gun “and kill people face to face,” according to the affidavit.
On Dec. 15, he allegedly told Hussien he’d found a restaurant in Washington that he wanted to bomb because it was next to a government building, according to the affidavit.
“It was El Khalifi’s understanding that his attack on the restaurant would be part of an al-Qaeda operation that would include both his restaurant bombing and the attack against a military installation,” Hersem wrote.
On Jan. 15, El Khalifi allegedly drove to a West Virginia quarry with Hussien to meet with Yusuf and test explosives. During the drive, the suspect told Hussien that he wanted to conduct a suicide bombing on the Capitol and that he would be happy killing 30 people, according to the affidavit.
Later, he said “he wanted a bigger bomb to do more damage, and asked if the explosives he intended to use could destroy the entire building,” according to the affidavit.
El Khalifi and the informant conducted surveillance on the Capitol and discussed the door he would use for the attack, according to the affadavit.
“El Khalifi stated that he would shoot the police officer stationed at the door to ensure that he would be able to detonate the bomb inside the building,” Hersem wrote.
The case is U.S. v. El Khalifi, 12-mj-00087, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).