WASHINGTON: A 29-year-old Morrocan has pleaded guilty of plotting a suicide attack on the US Capitol Building here in February as part of what he believed to be a terrorist operation, the US Justice Department said.
Amine El Khalifi, a resident of Alexandria in Virginia, yesterday pleaded guilty before US District Court Judge James Cacheris to one count of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction against the US Capitol Building, four months after he was charged in an undercover FBI operation.
As part of the plea agreement, the US and El Khalifi agree that a sentence within a range of 25 years to 30 years incarceration is the appropriate disposition of this case.
Sentencing has been scheduled for September 14, 2012.
El Khalifi, an illegal immigrant from Morocco, was arrested and charged by criminal complaint on February 17.
His arrest was the culmination of an undercover operation during which he was closely monitored by the FBI Washington Field Office’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).
The explosives and firearm that he allegedly sought and attempted to use had been rendered inoperable by law enforcement and posed no threat to the public.
“El Khalifi sought to bring down the US Capitol and kill as many people as possible,” said US Attorney Neil MacBride.
“He admitted today that he picked the targets, weapons, and means of the suicide attack while working with someone he believed was an al-Qaeda operative,” he said in a statement.
“El-Khalifi admitted that he attempted to carry out a suicide attack on the US Capitol as part of what he believed would be a terrorist operation,” said Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco. According to the statement of facts and other court documents filed in the case, in January 2011, a confidential human source told FBI that El Khalifi met with other individuals at a residence in Arlington, on January 11, 2011.
During this meeting, one individual produced what appeared to be an AK-47, two revolvers and ammunition.
El Khalifi allegedly expressed agreement with a statement by this individual that the “war on terrorism” was a “war on Muslims” and said that the group needed to be ready for war.
According to court documents, El Khalifi sought to be associated with an armed extremist group, and on December 1, 2011, he was introduced by a man he knew as “Hussien” to an individual named “Yusuf”, who was, in reality, an undercover law enforcement officer.
Throughout December 2011 and January 2012, El Khalifi proposed to carry out a bombing attack. His proposed targets included a building that contained US military offices, as well as a synagogue, US Army generals and a restaurant frequented by military officials, the Justice Department said.
During meetings with the undercover officer, he handled an AK-47and indicated his desire to conduct an operation in which he would use a gun and kill people face-to-face.
On January 7, 2012, Hussien informed El Khalifi that he was an al-Qaeda operative. El Khalifi discussed the possibility that his planned bombing of the restaurant would be followed by a second attack against a military installation to be conducted by others, who he believed to be associated with al-Qaeda.
On January 15, 2012, El Khalifi stated that he had modified his plans for his attack. Rather than an attack on a restaurant, he wanted to target the US Capitol Building.
That same day at a quarry in West Virginia, as a demonstration of the effects of the proposed bomb operation, El Khalifi dialed a cell phone number that he believed would detonate a bomb placed in the quarry.
The test bomb detonated, and El Khalifi expressed a desire for a larger explosion in his attack. He also selected February 17, 2012, as the day of the operation.
El Khalifi asked Hussien to remotely detonate the bomb he would be wearing if he encountered problems with security officers, and to provide him with a gun that he could use to shoot any officers who might attempt to stop him.
On February 17, El Khalifi traveled to a parking garage near the US Capitol Building. El Khalifi took possession of a MAC-10 automatic weapon and put on a vest containing what he believed to be a functioning bomb.
Unbeknownst to El Khalifi, both the weapon and the bomb had been rendered inoperable by law enforcement.
El Khalifi walked alone from the vehicle toward the US Capitol, where he intended to shoot people and detonate the bomb. El Khalifi was arrested and taken into custody before exiting the parking garage. -PTI