Man charged with trying to assassinate Obama

2011-11-18 10:47

A 21-year-old Idaho man who allegedly called US President Barack Obama the “devil” and the “anti-Christ” was charged Thursday with attempting to assassinate him by firing shots at the White House.

Oscar Ortega-Hernandez was arrested by Pennsylvania state police on Wednesday following last week’s shooting incident at the presidential mansion in Washington, one of the world’s most closely guarded buildings.

Obama and his wife Michelle were in California at the time of the incident, and no one was injured.

Ortega-Hernandez was charged in US federal court in Pittsburgh, where a judge ordered that he remain in police custody, the official said. He could face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

He was arrested at a hotel near Indiana, Pennsylvania, after gunshots were heard late Friday near the White House, about 600 to 700 metres away on Constitution Avenue, Secret Service special agent Edwin Donovan said.

Within five minutes of the shooting, authorities located an abandoned vehicle on Constitution Avenue, which runs along the northern border of the Washington Mall. That car was found to be registered to Ortega-Hernandez.

According to the criminal complaint, investigators recovered a semi-automatic assault rifle “with a large scope mounted on the top portion of the weapon” along with ammunition and nine spent shell casings.

From Constitution Avenue, a shooter would have a clear line of sight to the White House, across the Ellipse and the South Lawn of the presidential mansion where Obama, his wife, their two daughters and the first lady’s mother live.

Traffic is not restricted on Constitution Avenue and members of the public can approach the wrought iron fence at the bottom of the South Lawn on foot.

Two witnesses who know Ortega-Hernandez well said he had described Obama as the “devil” and the “anti-Christ”, according to the criminal complaint.

One of the witnesses told federal investigators that Ortega-Hernandez was “preparing for something”.

The suspect had said Obama “needed to be taken care of” and pledged he would “not stop until it’s done”, the witness added.

The other said Ortega-Hernandez was “convinced that the federal government was conspiring against him”.

The witness also confirmed the suspect owned a gun and had left Idaho in the vehicle later found by police.

The suspect was due to be transferred “within a few days” to Washington, federal prosecutors said.

The White House refused to comment on the case.

The complaint filed against Ortega-Hernandez said FBI investigators had found “several confirmed bullet impact points on the south side of the building on or above the second story”.

“Several bullets and fragments were also collected in that area,” it said, adding that one of the bullet matched the ammunition found in the abandoned car.

The White House’s southern facade has three levels. On the ground floor are offices, the map room and rooms where the White House china is on display.

On the main floor, several rooms have south facing windows, including the east room, where presidential press conferences are held; the blue, red and green rooms, named after their dominant colour schemes; and the state dining room.

On the top floor are the private living quarters of the president and his family. The residence’s main bedroom, a dining room, a reception room and the Lincoln bedroom all have windows facing south.

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