Friday, February 17, 2012
WASHINGTON (AP) — A 29-year-old Moroccan man was arrested Friday near the U.S. Capitol as he was planning to detonate what he thought was a suicide vest, given to him by FBI undercover operatives, said police and government officials.
Amine El Khalifi of Alexandria, Va., was taken into custody with an inoperable gun and inert explosives, according to a counterterrorism official.
El Khalifi made a brief appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Va., on Friday afternoon, wearing a green shirt and black pants and holding his arms together behind his back. A judge set a bail hearing in his case for Wednesday at 2 p.m.
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.
El Khalifi 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 counterterrorism official said. During the investigation, the official said, El Khalifi went with undercover operatives to a quarry in the Washington area to detonate explosives.
El Khalifi came to the U.S. when he was 16 years old and is unemployed and not believed to be associated with al-Qaida. He had been under investigation for about a year and had overstayed his visitor visa for years, according to the counterterrorism official and a government official briefed on the matter who spoke on a condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
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.
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Posted by Steve Douglass at 2:35 PM