NBCWashington.com - Derrick Ward
The suspect in the DC terror plot prayed at a Fairfax County mosque just before his arrest.
The FBI has arrested a man who thought he was going to carry out a bombing attack in Washington but was in fact dealing with FBI undercover operatives all along, according to NBC News.
The suspect, said by law enforcement officials to originally have come from Morocco and staying in the country illegally, was arrested about noon Friday, blocks from the Capitol, after he received what he thought was a vest containing explosives.
In fact, it had inert material that was not hazardous, NBC News reported.
NBC News has identified the suspect as 29-year-old Amine El Khalifi. He was also carrying an inoperable gun at the time of his arrest, near but not on Capitol grounds, according to the Associated Press.
NBC News reports El Khalifi originally told undercover FBI operatives that he wanted to carry out a terror attack against a synagogue or a U.S. military facility. Over time, however, El Khalifi's plan morphed into a suicide attack against the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, sources told NBC News. The alleged willingness to carry out a suicide attack sets this investigation apart from other recent terror sting operations.
"He wanted to set off the explosives where people would be around," one official told NBC News.
Agents are now conducting searches in Alexandria, Va., where the suspect has been living. FBI officials said El Khalifi has lived in the United States for the last 12 years illegally, after entering the country legally at age 16 but then overstaying his visa. According to the arrest warrant, El Khalifi entered the country in June 1999 and his visa expired the same year. He was unemployed, the AP reports, and is not believed to have ties to al-Qaida.
At this time, investigators believe that El Khalifi was acting alone.
FBI officials said he had been under close observation "for months."
The FBI began investigating El Khalifi about a year ago after receiving a tip that he was interested in jihad.
According to the arrest warrant, El Khalifi met with undercover officers claiming to be with an armed extremist group in December 2011 and said that he had a plan to bomb an office building in Alexandria that had U.S. military offices in it.
In the following weeks, El Khalifi said he wanted to attack a synagogue, an Army general and a D.C. restaurant, according to the arrest warrant. Officials said in the arrest warrant that El Khalifi in late December scouted out the restaurant, which he allegedly wanted to bomb by leaving explosives in a jacket behind a chair, and questioned a waiter about what time the restaurant was busiest.
According to the arrest warrant, El Khalifi bought nails, glue, cell phones and two jackets in January for what officials said were bombs, and then told an undercover officer that he modified his alleged restaurant attack plan to conduct a suicide/martyrdom operation at the U.S. Capitol building instead -- and said he would be happy killing 30 people. After testing explosives at a quarry in West Virginia in mid-January, El Khalifi allegedly told the undercover agents that he would carry out the Capitol attack on Feb. 17.
Officials said in the arrest warrant that on Friday El Khalifi was picked up by an undercover officer in a van in northern Virginia and was driven to a parking garage near the Capitol, where he allegedly took possession of an inoperable MAC-10 automatic weapon and put on a vest that he thought was equipped with a bomb. Officials said he walked alone from the vehicle toward the Capitol, but was taken into custody before leaving the garage.
The following statement was issued from U.S. Capitol Police:
"On Friday, February 17, 2012, members of the U.S. Capitol Police and the FBI arrested an individual in the area of the U.S. Capitol. This arrest was the culmination of a lengthy and extensive operation during which the individual was closely and carefully monitored. The U.S. Capitol Police was intimately involved in the investigation for the duration of the operation. At no time was the public or Congressional community in any danger."
At a very brief initial hearing Friday afternoon, a bond hearing was scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday. El Khalifi did not have a lawyer.
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