Summary:A Virginia man will spend at least 25 years in prison after admitting he tried to conduct a suicide bomb attack against the U.S. Capitol.
Amine El Khalifi, 29, an illegal
immigrant from Morocco living in Alexandria, pleaded guilty Friday in U.S.
District Court, admitting that he plotted with men he thought were Al Qaeda
operatives to attack the Capitol. In reality, El Khalifi was the target of an
undercover FBI operation.
He was arrested in February in a
parking garage near the Capitol, wearing what he thought was an explosive-laden
suicide vest. The vest, provided by undercover operatives, was actually inert.
A gun he planned to use to shoot his way past security in the building was also
Friday's plea deal requires the
judge to sentence El Khalifi to a term of between 25 and 30 years when the
sentencing is held Sept. 14. In the plea deal, prosecutors state they will ask
for a 30-year sentence.
Prosecutors said El Khalifi had
revealed his intention to kill Americans to an undercover FBI operative he
thought was a member of the Al Qaeda terrorist group. He spoke of wanting to
attack a synagogue and kill Army generals, prosecutors said, before settling on
a plot to blow himself up inside the U.S. Capitol as an act of martyrdom.
Officials have said the public was never in danger.
El Khalifi admitted in Friday's
hearing that, in preparation for the planned attack, he detonated a test bomb
at a quarry in West Virginia and told the undercover operatives that he was
hoping for an even larger explosion when he attacked the Capitol. He told the
operatives he would be happy if he could kill 30 people. He also asked his
handlers to remotely detonate the suicide bomb at the Capitol if he were
El Khalifi's lawyer, federal public
defender Ken Troccoli, declined comment after Friday's hearing. In earlier
court papers, defense lawyers said they were exploring both the possibility of
a plea deal or presenting an entrapment defense at trial.
However, prosecutors say in their
own court filings it was El Khalifi who continually upgraded the plans, wanting
bigger bombs and higher-profile targets. They say it was El Khalifi who brought
up the idea of targeting the Capitol, after first setting his sights on a
building in Alexandria, a synagogue and a busy Washington restaurant.
"It was Mr. Khalifi who picked
the targets. It was Mr. Khalifi who picked the weapons he was going to
use," said Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of
Virginia, whose office prosecuted the case.
MacBride said El Khalifi is just the
latest among roughly a half-dozen "homegrown terrorists" who have
been caught in FBI sting operations and investigations in the past few years in
the northern Virginia area alone.
Bryan Paarmann, assistant special
agent in the FBI's counterterrorism division in its Washington Field Office,
said El Khalifi is part of a disturbing trend of homegrown violent extremists.
"They come from all walks of
life," he said. "How they started on the path to radicalization is
unique in every case," said Paarmann, who declined to comment on what
specifically motivated el Khalifi.
El Khalifi could have faced life in
prison if convicted at trial.