Man Charged in Military Shootings

Thursday, Jun 23, 2011  |  Updated 8:37 PM EDT
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Yonathan Melaku, 22, is charged in five shootings at military buildings in Northern Virginia

Yonathan Melaku, 22, is charged in five shootings at military buildings in Northern Virginia

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A Marine Corps reservist arrested in a security scare near the Pentagon last week was charged Thursday in a series of pre-dawn shootings at military buildings in the Washington area last year.

Federal prosecutors said in court documents that they found bomb-making materials in a backpack carried by 22-year-old Yonathan Melaku as well as inside his home. They also said authorities discovered a video he took of himself firing shots outside one building last fall and repeatedly saying the Arabic words "Allahu Akbar," which means "God is Great."

He was detained for trespassing inside Arlington National Cemetery early Friday and was found with a quantity of ammonium nitrate, which is widely used in explosives; a spiral notebook containing references to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden; a can of black spray paint; two cans of Rust-Oleum; and spent 9 mm shell casings.

In a subsequent search of his Alexandria home, officials said they found in his bedroom closet a typed list titled "Timer" with items an FBI bomb technician said were consistent with the requirements for "a time power unit and firing mechanism of an improvised explosive device."

"Those items, combined with ammonium nitrate, would in fact make up several significant components required for the manufacture of an IED," according to the affidavit.

The aforementioned videotape was also found in Melaku's bedroom, federal officials said.

According to the affidavit, the tape showed Melaku in a vehicle driving near the National Museum of the Marine Corps and "repeatedly firing a handgun from the vehicle out the passenger-side window."

The affidavit said that Melaku could also be heard making the following statements on the tape:

"I've already ... that's the military building ... last time I hit them, they turned off the lights for like four or five days.  So now here we go again; this time I'm going to turn it off permanently.  Alright next time this video turns on, I will be shooting. That's what they get. That's my target. That's the military building. It's going to be attacked."

Melaku was scheduled to appear in court Thursday on unrelated larceny charges, but that hearing was canceled.  He was charged Thursday with two counts each of damaging federal property with a gun and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence. He was accused in shootings at military buildings last October, including at the National Museum of the Marine Corps and a Marine recruiting station. No one was injured in any of the shootings.

Shots were fired at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va., on Oct. 17 and Oct. 30. On Oct. 19, shots were fired at the Pentagon, shattering windows just before 5 a.m. Shots fired at the Marine Corps recruiting center in Chantilly on Oct. 26 and the Coast Guard recruiting station near Potomac Mills on Nov. 2 were linked to the other incidents. The five shootings were done with the same gun. No one was injured in the shootings.

The FBI said at the time that the shooter was likely someone with a gripe against the military.

Melaku joined the Marine Corps Reserve in September 2007 and was assigned as a motor vehicle operator to a unit based in Baltimore, the Associated Press reported. Spokesman Lt. Col. Francis Piccoli said Wednesday the Marine Corps was in the process of trying to remove him from the service based on the grand larceny charges. Melaku has not tried to contest his removal, Piccoli said.

An official has said Melaku has no known ties to al-Qaida or any other terrorist organization.

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