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Press Release

Man Arrested for Trying to Detonate What He Thought was a Vehicle Bomb at Downtown Oklahoma City Bank

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Oklahoma

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma — Jerry Drake Varnell, 23, of Sayre, Oklahoma, was arrested early Saturday morning in connection with a plot to detonate a vehicle bomb at BancFirst, 101 N. Broadway, in downtown Oklahoma City, announced Mark A. Yancey, United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma.


According to a criminal complaint filed in the Western District of Oklahoma yesterday, the FBI arrested Varnell at approximately 1:00 am on August 12, 2017, after he attempted to detonate what he believed to be an explosives-laden van he had parked in an alley next to BancFirst. The complaint alleges that Varnell initially wanted to blow up the Federal Reserve Building in Washington, D.C., with a device similar to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing because he was upset with the government.


The complaint explains that after Varnell’s intentions came to the attention of law enforcement, an undercover FBI agent posed as a person who could assist him. According to the complaint, Varnell took a series of actions to advance his plot. He identified BancFirst as the target, prepared a statement to be posted on social media after the explosion, helped assemble the device, helped load it into what he believed was a stolen van, drove the van by himself from El Reno to BancFirst in downtown Oklahoma City, and dialed a number on a cellular telephone that he believed would trigger the explosion.


Varnell is charged with attempting to use explosives to destroy a building in interstate commerce. If convicted, he would face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment. He is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court in Oklahoma City today at 3:00 pm.


This arrest is the culmination of a long-term domestic terrorism investigation involving an undercover operation, during which Varnell had been monitored closely for months as the alleged bomb plot developed. The device was actually inert, and the public was not in danger. "There was never a concern that our community’s safety or security was at risk during this investigation," said Kathryn Peterson, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oklahoma. "I can assure the public, without hesitation, that we had Varnell’s actions monitored every step of the way."


U.S. Attorney Yancey said: "I commend the devoted work of the FBI and our state law enforcement partners in ensuring that violent plots of this kind never succeed."


The investigation was conducted by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, including members from the Oklahoma City FBI; Homeland Security Investigations, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; the Oklahoma City Police Department; the Edmond Police Department; the Oklahoma Highway Patrol; the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs; and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. The FBI worked in conjunction with BancFirst during the investigation. Oklahoma District Attorney Angela Marsee, of District 2, also provided assistance. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Dillon, with assistance from the Justice Department’s Counterterrorism Section.


Reference is made to court records for further information. The public is reminded that this complaint is only an allegation and that Varnell is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.


Updated August 14, 2017