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FBI Arrests Would-be D.C. Suicide Bomber

By: CBS/AP
By: CBS/AP

FBI arrests would-be Capitol bomber outside D.C.






A man has been arrested near the U.S. Capitol as part of a long-running investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Capitol Police. (CBS)




(CBS/AP) 

Updated at 10:12 p.m. ET


A 29-year-old Moroccan man who authorities say wanted to be the first suicide bomber on U.S. soil was arrested Friday after strapping on what he thought was an explosive vest and heading for the U.S. Capitol, CBS News' John Miller reports.


A source told CBS News' John Nolen that the suspect was identified as Amine El Khalifi, a Moroccan citizen who has lived in the United States for more than 12 years. He was taken down by FBI agents and U.S. Capitol Police officers in Alexandria, Va., outside Washington. An intelligence source confirmed the suspect's name to CBS News.


The Justice Department announced that El Khalifi was charged "by criminal complaint with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against property that is owned and used by the United States." He faces life in prison if convicted.


Read the federal criminal complaint against El Khalifi


El Khalifi made a brief appearance in federal court in Alexandria on Friday afternoon. He was wearing a green shirt and black parts and holding his arms together behind his back.



A courtroom sketch showing Amine El Khalifi making a courtroom appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Va., Feb. 17, 2012. Khalifi was arrested after strapping on what he thought was an explosive vest and heading for the U.S. Capitol.


(Credit: CBS/Dana Verkouteren)

A judge set a bail hearing in his case for Wednesday at 2 p.m.


In a statement released by the Justice Department, Assistant Attorney General for National Security Lisa Monaco said: "Today's case underscores the continuing threat we face from homegrown violent extremists. Thanks to a coordinated law enforcement effort, El Khalifi's alleged plot was thwarted before anyone was harmed."


Added FBI Assistant Director in Charge James W. McJunkin: "This individual allegedly followed a twisted, radical ideology that is not representative of the Muslim community in the United States. He became known to the JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) because of his stated desire to carry out attacks in the U.S., specifically, the U.S. Capitol building. This arrest is the result of dedicated special agents, task force officers and intelligence analysts from the FBI and our partner law enforcement agencies that make up the JTTF."


Last December, the suspect allegedly told an undercover law enforcement officer that he planned to detonate a bomb at an Alexandria building that contained offices for the U.S. military, Nolen reported. His plans changed until he settled on the Capitol. Other targets the suspect allegedly considered were a synagogue and a Washington restaurant frequented by members of the military.




A high-ranking source told CBS News the man was "never a real threat."


Undercover FBI agents met with the suspect Friday morning in his garage, giving him a vest filled with explosives that had previously been rendered inoperable, Miller reported. The agents also provided the suspect with an impaired automatic firearm that he allegedly planned to use to shoot U.S. Capitol Police officers, Nolen reported.





At some point, the suspect came close to actual explosives and allegedly participated in a demonstration of an improvised-explosive device in a quarry, Nolen reported.


He believed he was working with an al Qaeda operative on the plot, according to an affidavit.


El Khalifi came to the U.S. when he was 16 years old and is unemployed and not believed to be associated with al Qaeda. He had been under investigation for about a year and had overstayed his visitor visa, which expired in 1999, making him in the country illegally, according to court documents.


He told acquaintances in January 2011 that he agreed the "war on terrorism" was a "war on Muslims" and that they needed to be ready for war, the affidavit said.


A former landlord in Arlington, Va., said he believed El Khalifi was suspicious and called police a year and a half ago.


Frank Dynda said when he told El Khalifi to leave, the suspect said he had a right to stay and threatened to beat up Dynda. Dynda said he thought El Khalifi was making bombs, but police told him to leave the man alone. Dynda had El Khalifi evicted in 2010.


El Khalifi had several men staying with him and based on packages left for him, Dynda said. It appeared that he was running a luggage business from the apartment, though Dynda never saw any bags.


"I reported to police I think he's making bombs," Dynda said. "I was ready to get my shotgun and run him out of the building, but that would have been a lot of trouble."


Two people briefed on the matter told The Associated Presst he FBI has had him under surveillance around the clock for several weeks. They spoke on a condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.


Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center imam Johari Abdul-Malik, who along with other Muslim leaders meets regularly with the FBI, said he was contacted by an agency official and told that Khalifi was not someone he needed to worry about.


He said the official told him that Khalifi was "not a regular at your mosque or any mosque in the area."


He said he offered to supply the FBI with surveillance video of the mosque in Falls Church, Va., in case it helped with their investigation but was told that was it not necessary.


Police are close to arresting one of his associates on charges unrelated to the terror conspiracy, the counterterrorism official said. The associate was said to also be a Moroccan, living here illegally. Police are investigating others El Khalifi associated with, but not because they believe the associates were part of a terror conspiracy, the official said.



 


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