A 29-year-old Moroccan man was arrested Friday on accusations he planned to detonate a suicide bomb in the U.S. Capitol before undercover agents thwarted him through a lengthy sting operation, the Department of Justice said.
Amine El Khalifi, who lived in Alexandria but had no legal residency in the United States, faces up to life in prison if he is convicted of charges he attempted to use a weapon of mass destruction against federal property.
FBI agents had tracked El Khalifi since January 2011, when a confidential informant reported el Khalifi met with individuals in Arlington and expressed terrorist sentiments, federal officials said. The group produced an AK-47, two revolvers and ammunition, and federal agents say El Khalifi noted the “war on terrorism” is a “war on Muslims.”
Federal officials said that by December, El Khalifi had aligned himself with an undercover officer he thought would help him plan an attack on one of several proposed targets in the D.C. area. By mid-January he abandoned plans to blow up a restaurant and settled on an attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to the Department of Justice.
Federal officials said he used a cell phone to set off a test bomb in a quarry in West Virginia and planned the specific time and location of an attack on the U.S. Capitol. They said El Khalifi went to a parking garage near the U.S. Capitol on Friday with an automatic weapon and a vest that he thought contained a bomb — however both had been rendered inoperable by agents.
El Khalifi was arrested before he exited the garage near the U.S. Capitol, federal officials said. He made his first appearance in U.S. District Court before Judge T. Rawles Jones Jr. on Friday afternoon.
Federal officials did not give any indication El Khalifi has formal ties to al Qaeda.
“Today’s case underscores the continuing threat we face from homegrown violent extremists,” Assistant Attorney General Monaco said. “Thanks to a coordinated law enforcement effort, El Khalifi’s alleged plot was thwarted before anyone was harmed.”