Amine El Khalifi, a 29-year-old resident of Alexandria, Va., pleaded guilty today in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia in connection with his efforts to carry out a suicide bomb attack on the U.S. Capitol Building in February 2012 as part of what he intended to be a terrorist operation.
The guilty plea was announced by Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Lisa Monaco, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; and James W. McJunkin, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office.
At a hearing today before U.S. District Court Judge James C. Cacheris, El Khalifi pleaded guilty to one count of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction (specifically, a destructive device consisting of an improvised explosive device) against U.S. property, namely the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. As part of the plea agreement, the United States 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 Sept. 14, 2012.
El Khalifi, an illegal immigrant from Morocco, was arrested and charged by criminal complaint on Feb. 17, 2012. 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.
“Amine El Khalifi sought to bring down the U.S. Capitol and kill as many people as possible,” said U.S. Attorney 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.”
“Amine El-Khalifi today admitted that he attempted to carry out a suicide attack on the U.S. Capitol as part of what he believed would be a terrorist operation,” said Assistant Attorney General Monaco. “I thank all those responsible for ensuring that El Khalifi’s violent plans never came to fruition.”
“The FBI’s top priority is stopping terrorism, and we remain vigilant against those who attempt to commit violence against the United States,” said Assistant Director in Charge McJunkin. “Today’s plea is the result of the hard work of dedicated Special Agents, analysts and prosecutors as well as officers from our partner law enforcement agencies that make up the Joint Terrorism Task Force.”
According to the statement of facts and other court documents filed in the case, in January 2011, a confidential human source reported to the FBI that El Khalifi met with other individuals at a residence in Arlington, Va., on Jan. 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 Dec 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 U.S. military offices, as well as a synagogue, U.S. Army generals and a restaurant frequented by military officials.
During meetings with the undercover officer, El Khalifi handled an AK-47and indicated his desire to conduct an operation in which he would use a gun and kill people face-to-face. He also selected a restaurant in Washington, D.C., for a bombing attack; handled an explosive as an example of what could be used in the attack; conducted surveillance to determine the best place and time for the bombing and purchased materials as part of the planned operation.
On Jan. 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 El Khalifi believed to be associated with al-Qaeda.
On Jan. 15, 2012, El Khalifi stated that he had modified his plans for his attack. Rather than conduct an attack on a restaurant, he wanted to conduct a suicide attack at the U.S. 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 Feb. 17, 2012, as the day of the operation.
Over the next month, El Khalifi traveled to the U.S. Capitol Building several times to conduct surveillance, choosing the spot where he would be dropped off to enter the building, the specific time for the attack and the method he would use to avoid law enforcement attention. El Khalifi also asked Hussien to remotely detonate the bomb he would be wearing on the day of the attack if El Khalifi encountered problems with security officers, and to provide El Khalifi with a gun that he could use during the attack to shoot any officers who might attempt to stop him.
On Feb. 17, 2012, El Khalifi traveled to a parking garage near the U.S. 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 U.S. Capitol, where he intended to shoot people and detonate the bomb. El Khalifi was arrested and taken into custody before exiting the parking garage.
This investigation is being conducted by the FBI’s Washington Field Office. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gordon Kromberg and Michael Ben’Ary of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, as well as Trial Attorneys Joseph Kaster and Courtney Sullivan from the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.