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FACTDROP: Federal agents arrest man who allegedly planned suicide bombing on U.S. Capitol


Federal agents arrest man who allegedly planned suicide bombing on U.S. Capitol

The FBI and the U.S. Capitol Police arrested a man Friday after a lengthy investigation into an alleged plot to carry out a suicide attack on the Capitol.

Πηγή: Washington Post
By William Branigin and Del Quentin Wilber
Feb 17 2012

The FBI and the U.S. Capitol Police arrested a Moroccan man Friday in downtown Washington after a lengthy investigation into an alleged plot to carry out a suicide attack on the Capitol.

Amine el-Khalifi, 29, was picked up while carrying an inoperable gun and a fake suicide vest provided to him by undercover FBI agents posing as al-Qaeda associates, U.S. officials said. They said he entered the United States when he was 16 and was living as an illegal immigrant in Arlington, Va., having reportedly overstayed his visitor’s visa for years.

Khalifi was arrested in a parking garage on Constitution Avenue NW a few blocks from the Capitol following a year-long investigation, officials said.

The first official word of the arrest came in a cryptic news release from the Capitol Police that said an unidentified individual was arrested “in the area of the U.S. Capitol” but that “at no time was the public or congressional community in any danger.”

The statement said the arrest “was the culmination of a lengthy and extensive operation during which the individual was closely and carefully monitored.”

The statement provided no other details, but a U.S. official said a Moroccan man was picked up near the Labor Department on his way to the Capitol for what he thought would be a suicide attack. He was carrying with him a vest that he believed was packed with explosives but that actually contained harmless material, officials said.

The man thought he was being assisted by members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, but they were really undercover FBI agents, officials said.

“We can confirm that there has been an arrest of a suspect in Washington, D.C., in connection with a terrorism investigation,” said Peter Carr, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride in Virginia, where the investigation is centered.

“The arrest was the culmination of an undercover operation during which the suspect was closely monitored by law enforcement,” Carr said in a statement. “Explosives the suspect allegedly sought to use in connection with the plot had been rendered inoperable by law enforcement and posed no threat to the public. Additional information will be forthcoming at the appropriate time.”

The FBI issued a similar statement. An FBI source confirmed that the target was the U.S. Capitol.

The Moroccan man entered the United States with a family member, and at some point, he came to the attention of the FBI, said a law enforcement official.

Undercover FBI agents gave the man inoperable explosives and a gun, and he was followed Friday into the District, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Fox News, which first reported the man’s alleged intention to carry out a suicide mission against the Capitol, said the investigation began after he expressed interest in conducting an attack but that it was unclear how the FBI learned of his aspirations.

Shortly before the alleged mission, the man had been praying at a mosque in the Washington area, Fox News reported.

The Associated Press, quoting a law enforcement official, said Khalifi changed his mind about his intended target several times but ultimately decided on the Capitol. He is not believed to be associated with al-Qaeda, AP said.

In the past year, federal agents have arrested at least 20 people in the United States on terrorism-related charges, the Senate Intelligence Committee has said.

In September, FBI agents posing as al-Qaeda associates helped arrest a Massachusetts man of Bangladeshi descent, Rezwan Ferdaus, 26, for allegedly plotting to fly explosives-packed model planes into the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol.

In October 2010, Farooque Ahmed, a Pakistani American from Ashburn, Va., was arrested for an alleged plot to bomb Washington-area Metro stations. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in April 2011 to 23 years in prison.

The Capitol was the scene of intense activity Friday, as the House and Senate voted on a $150 billion economic package that extends a payroll tax cut through the rest of the year for 160 million Americans. The measure passed both houses after morning debates.

News of the alleged plot came just as a group of Muslim congressional staffers and others finished their noontime Friday prayers at the U.S. Capitol.

“Clearly the alleged perpetrator... has no regard for Muslim leaders either from our mosque or from the leadership of Muslims in America,” said Johari Abdul-Malik, prayer leader of the Dar al-Hijrah Mosque in Northern Virginia, after leading the prayers in one of the meeting rooms of the Capitol.

“Whoever this guy was, if he was aiming for the Capitol, he would have gotten all of us,” Abdul-Malik said.

About 50 worshipers attended the prayers, including congressional staffers and workers from the National Archives, Library of Congress, Capitol Police and other surrounding federal offices. Also praying with the group was Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, according to Abdul-Malik, who gave the main sermon at the prayers.

Muslim leaders from the region spent the afternoon conferring and trying to learn more about the arrest and the identity of the suspect.

Several expressed fears of backlash against Muslims.

“We don’t know anything yet — who this man was and where he’s from,” said Rizwan Jaka, spokesman for the All Dulles Area Muslim Society. “But people often correlate the individual with whatever mosques he has worshiped in previously. Mosques are open to the public and anyone can come in.”

Jaka added: “We condemn and reject these actions. Usually it’s these lone-wolf situations, and we’re just glad he’s off the street.”

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