A 29-year-old Moroccan residing in the United States illegally has been arrested for attempting to carry out a suicide bombing at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
Amine El Khalifi, who entered the country in 1999 on a tourist visa and never left, was arrested on February 17, 2012 in an FBI sting operation near the Capitol after taking possession of what he believed to be a suicide vest and an automatic weapon from undercover agents. He was charged the same day with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction against federal property and faces the possibility of life in prison.
The investigation began after a source reported to the FBI that El Khalifi attended a meeting in January 2011 in Northern Virginia at which he expressed his agreement with an unidentified individual that the "war on terrorism" is a "war on Muslims," according to court documents. El Khalifi also said "the group needed to be ready for war." El Khalifi's former landlord claims to have informed authorities in 2010 that he was concerned El Khalifi was building bombs in his apartment.
As El Khalifi's planning progressed in late 2011 and early 2012, he allegedly divulged to undercover agents, whom he believed to be Al Qaeda operatives, his desire to target military offices, Army generals, a restaurant frequented by military personnel, and a synagogue. In preparation for his planned attack, El Khalifi scouted various potential targets and handled explosives in meetings with the undercover agents. He also purchased material for the bombs, including nails for enhanced destructive potential.
By mid-January 2012, El Khalifi reportedly abandoned his plans to leave a bomb targeting military personnel and decided to target the Capitol building in a suicide attack. Court documents assert that he told the undercover agents "that he would be happy killing 30 people," and asked for a more destructive bomb after traveling with them to a quarry in West Virginia to carry out a test bombing. By mid-February, El Khalifi was carrying out surveillance of the Capitol building to try to ascertain the security arrangements and to decide which point of entry granted the best access. He asked the undercover agents to detonate the bomb remotely in case he "encountered problems with security" and also requested a gun to shoot the security guard at the entrance and any other security officers who might interfere, according to federal officials.
Authorities stress that the public was never in danger at any time and that they do not believe that El Khalifi had genuine contact with any terrorist organization.