'Capitol bomber' held in FBI sting
A Moroccan man who believed he was working with al Qaida has been arrested near the US Capitol as he planned to detonate a "suicide vest", given to him by undercover officers.
Amine El Khalifi, 29, was taken into custody with an inoperable gun and inert explosives, according to a counter-terrorism official. He arrived near Washington DC in a van with the two officers and walked towards the Congress building, according to court papers. He was arrested before he left the parking garage.
El Khalifi has made a brief appearance in federal court in Virginia when a judge set a bail hearing for Wednesday.
No address for El Khalifi was listed in court papers, but FBI agents in blue jackets raided a red brick rambler home in Virginia after the arrest. A police car blocked the entrance.
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. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
El Khalifi, who was under constant surveillance, expressed interest in killing at least 30 people and considered targeting a building in Alexandria, Virginia, and a restaurant, synagogue and a place where military staff gather in Washington, before he settled on the Capitol after canvassing the area a couple of times, the counter-terrorism official said.
During the investigation, El Khalifi went with undercover agents to a quarry in West Virginia in January to practise detonating explosives, according to court documents.
He believed he was working with an al Qaida operative on the plot, according to an affidavit.
El Khalifi came to the US when he was 16 and is unemployed and not believed to be associated with the terror group. He had been under investigation for about a year and had overstayed his visitor visa which expired in 1999, making him in the country illegally, according to court documents.
According to the affidavit filed by an FBI agent, El Khalifi told acquaintances in January 2011 that he agreed the "war on terrorism" was a "war on Muslims" and that they needed to be ready for war.