News24

FBI sting nets Moroccan on terror charges

2012-02-18 11:37

Washington - A 29-year-old Moroccan man who believed he was working with al-Qaeda was arrested Friday near the US Capitol as he was planning to detonate what he thought was a suicide vest that undercover operatives gave him, officials said.

Amine El Khalifi of Alexandria, Virginia, was taken into custody with a gun that didn't work and inert explosives, according to a counter-terrorism official.

He arrived near the Capitol in a van with the two undercover operatives, and walked toward the building, according to court papers. He was arrested before he left the parking garage.

El Khalifi made a brief appearance on Friday afternoon in federal court in Alexandria, where a judge set a bail hearing for Wednesday. After his arrest, FBI agents raided a red brick home in Arlington, Virginia. A police car blocked the entrance.

A criminal complaint charges him with knowingly and unlawfully attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against property that is owned and used by the United States.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

El Khalifi, who was under constant surveillance, expressed interest in killing at least 30 people and considered targeting a building in Alexandria and a restaurant, synagogue and a place where military personnel gather in Washington before he settled on the Capitol after canvassing that area a couple of times, the counter-terrorism official said.

During the investigation, El Khalifi went with undercover operatives in January to a quarry in West Virginia to practice detonating explosives, according to court documents.

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

El Khalifi came to the US 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.

Before settling on a plot to conduct a suicide bombing in the Capitol, El Khalifi considered blowing up an office building in Alexandria, where military officials worked and a restaurant in Washington to target military officials who gathered there. He even purchased supplies that included nails for the operation, according to the affidavit.

Later, when he settled on bombing the Capitol, El Khalifi asked his associates for more explosives that could be detonated by dialing a cellphone number.

In January, he unknowingly told authorities he wanted to know if an explosion would be large enough to destroy an entire building.

El Khalifi met with an undercover law enforcement officer, who gave him an automatic weapon that didn't work.

El Khalifi carried the firearm around the room, practiced pulling the trigger and looking at himself in the mirror.

Suspicious

A former landlord in Arlington 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.

The former landlord 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 at least one man staying with him and claimed he was running a luggage business from the apartment, Dynda said, doubting that was true because he 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 Press the FBI has had him under surveillance around the clock for several weeks. They spoke on a condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly.

Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Centre 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 Arlington in case it helped with their investigation but was told that was it not necessary.

Police are close to arresting one of El Khalifi's associates on charges unrelated to the terror conspiracy, the counter-terrorism 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.

Comments
  • Suki - 2012-02-18 12:58

    Islam means peace (apparently).

      Adam - 2012-02-19 09:56

      islam actually means to submit. submit your will to god. other wise known as alaaahhhhhh but i do think its quite cute how people think there is anything peaceful about islam. actions speak louder then words - please some one give me one example of peace? they dont believe only muslims must follow islam, their beliefs clearly state that every human being must SUBMIT their will to alaaahhhh! thats why they are such violent war mongers, because if you dont believe in islam(submit your will to god, under their prescribed way, you are not worthy to live) LOVELY PEOPLE!!! although i must say your general day to day muslim is usually a lovely person in all honesty - speaking truthfully

  • Gerhard - 2012-02-18 13:11

    Islam is no good for man, woman or child.

      alansmartSnr - 2012-02-18 19:15

      When I see an Ismalite, I see a terrorist!

  • Fidel - 2012-02-18 13:19

    This is a classical case of entrapment. The fella might have been noticed visiting Jihadist websites (spying is legal in the US), and the correspondence was initiated by the FBI, who later provide all the material. In essence this man is being charged with thought crime, because that is the reason he was targeted, because of his thoughts. Somebody in the halls of power has decided to use 1984 as a manual...and very few Americans are awake.

      cosmos.ndebele - 2012-02-18 14:58

      Seems like this guy was encouraged by the powers be then nailed.

      Adam - 2012-02-19 09:58

      seem like you are absolutely delusional - quite sad tho how you will even lie to your self to protect your whacky beliefs

      Fidel - 2012-02-19 11:10

      Obviously, knowing the word 'delusion' does not guarantee that you can see it in yourself.

  • DREGstudios - 2012-02-18 16:22

    So let me get this straight- Undercover Agents give a kid with extremist ideas a fake bomb… then arrest him for having a fake bomb and say they “stopped” a terrorist attack. Is this the world we want to live in with smoke and mirror operations for PR spin to further a “war” which hemorrhages money and engages us in War Profiteering? You can read much more about living in this Orwellian society of fear and see my visual response to these measures on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/09/living-in-society-of-fear-ten-years.html

      Fidel - 2012-02-19 01:09

      George Orwell's 1984 up to the T! I am glad that you mention that it was his ideas that got him entraped. Thinking or dreaming about doing something in the US of A is a serious crime.

  • Fidel - 2012-02-19 12:11

    The US is slowly turning into a fascist-lite state.

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