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“We cannot wait until there are real, dead victims to enforce our laws,” Mr. Kromberg said.

When the undercover agents first approached el-Khalifi, his initial idea was to attack an office building in Alexandria. He later suggested attacking a synagogue, a busy Washington restaurant and an Army general’s home before eventually volunteering to attack the Capitol.

According to court papers, El-Khalifi detonated a test bomb at a West Virginia quarry and expressed disappointment that the explosion was not big enough. On Feb. 17, the day of the planned attack, El-Khalifi went so far as to don what he thought was a bomb-laden vest packed with nails, and carried the inoperable automatic weapon that he would use to shoot past any guards who got in his way.

El-Khalifi told the agents he would be happy if the attack killed 30 people.

El-Khalifi will be deported to Morocco after serving his sentence.

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil MacBride, whose office prosecuted the case, said Friday that “El-Khalifi sought to bring down the U.S. Capitol, one of our nation’s iconic symbols. Since 9/11, our mission has been to find terrorists intent on attacking the United States before they act.”