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Press Release

Cincinnati-Area Man Sentenced to 30 Years for Attempting Terrorism Plot to Kill Government Employees

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Ohio

CINCINNATI – Christopher Lee Cornell, 22, of Green Township, Ohio, was sentenced in U.S. District Court today to 30 years in prison and lifetime supervised release for plotting, planning and attempting an attack on government officials during the State of the Union Address in 2015 in the name of ISIL.


Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Mary McCord, U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Glassman of the Southern District of Ohio and Special Agent in Charge Angela L. Byers of the FBI’s Cincinnati Division announced the sentence handed down today by Senior U.S. District Judge Sandra Beckwith.


According to court documents, from on or about August 2014 through January 2015, Cornell plotted, planned and attempted to travel to Washington, D.C., in order to attack the U.S. Capitol during the State of the Union Address on January 20, 2015.


Cornell conducted online research of weapons, the construction of bombs, the U.S. Capitol and other potential targets in the Washington, D.C., area. He intended to kill officers and employees of the United States, and possessed two semi-automatic rifles and approximately 600 rounds of ammunition.


The defendant admitted that his planned attack on the U.S. Capitol was an attempt to provide material support and resources – both personnel and services – to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).


Cornell was arrested on Jan. 14, 2015, by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). After his arrest, he posted statements online that included a call for others to join him in violent jihad against the United States and its citizens on behalf of ISIL.


“One would think that the shock of being arrested for these offenses would have an immediate and sobering effect on a young man’s psyche. But that is not what happened,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Mangan wrote in this case’s sentencing memorandum. “Cornell became even more proud of and obstinate regarding his attack plans and allegiance to ISIL, calling himself a prisoner of war. He remained determined to cause harm and tried (in multiple ways) to rally others to violence…instead of recognizing his own fault.”


Cornell was originally charged by an indictment returned by a federal grand jury on Jan. 21, 2015. On May 7, 2015, Cornell was additionally charged by superseding indictment.  He pleaded guilty on August 1 to one count of attempting to kill government employees, one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence and one count of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.


“The seriousness of this crime is apparent,” U.S. Attorney Glassman said. “Cornell plotted to commit violence as a symbolic attack on the United States as a whole. An attempt to murder another individual is horrific enough and justifies a significant sentence. But this was more than that. Cornell wanted to inflict pain on the spirit of the entire country, and terrorize its leadership. Today’s sentence appropriately holds him accountable for that.”


The JTTF is made up of officers and agents from the Cincinnati Police Department, Colerain, Police Department, Dayton Police Department, Ohio State Highway Patrol, University of Cincinnati Police Department, U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, FBI, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, West Chester Police Department and Xenia Police Department.


Acting Assistant Attorney General McCord and U.S. Attorney Glassman commended the JTTF for its investigation of this case. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Mangan and Trial Attorney Michael Dittoe of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

Updated December 5, 2016