A Moroccan illegal immigrant pleaded guilty yesterday to attempting a suicide bombing of the United States Capitol building in Washington in a deal with prosecutors that could see him sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Amine El Khalifi, 29, was arrested in a sting operation in a parking garage near the Capitol on 17 February with an automatic weapon, wearing a vest he believed was full of explosives supplied by al-Qa'ida, according to US officials. He intended to shoot bystanders before detonating a bomb inside the building, which is home to Congress. His gun and the explosives, however, had been rendered inoperable by US agents, according to the FBI.
Khalifi, who was living in Alexandria, Virginia, at the time of his arrest, pleaded guilty to one criminal count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against property owned and used by the US.
"I plead guilty," he said, dressed in a grey prison jumpsuit and standing before Judge James Cacheris of the US District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia. Khalifi appeared relaxed as he chatted with his lawyers in court. He will be sentenced on14 September.
Prosecutors maintain that Khalifi initiated the planned attack. "It was Mr Khalifi at every step who was identifying the targets and the means," US Attorney Neil MacBride said. "Amine El Khalifi sought to bring down the US Capitol and kill as many people as possible."
The FBI said it began tracking Khalifi after a confidential source divulged that Khalifi had met with a group in Virginia in January 2011 where one person produced what appeared to be an AK-47 rifle, two revolvers and ammunition and said the "war on terrorism" was a "war on Muslims" and that the group needed to be ready for war, according to court documents.
Khalifi agreed with the statements, the source said, according to prosecutors. They did not identify who else was present at the meeting.
An undercover law enforcement agent posing as a member of an armed extremist group met with Khalifi in December 2011 and they discussed various plots to attack US military offices, an Army general, a synagogue and a Washington restaurant, according to an FBI affidavit filed in court.
In early 2012, Khalifi switched his target to the Capitol and said he wanted to execute a suicide bombing from inside the building. He chose a time for the attack, planned how to enter the building and discussed how he would shoot a police officer stationed at the entrance. An undercover agent provided Khalifi with the gun and vest and drove with him to the Capitol. Khalifi was arrested while walking alone toward the building.