Capitol Police officer Trevor O'Neill stands guard after a man was… (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated…)
Reporting from Washington — An immigrant from Morocco armed with an automatic weapon and wearing what he thought was a suicide vest packed with explosives was arrested near the U.S. Capitol building in Washington by FBI agents who had been closely monitoring him in an undercover sting operation, officials announced Friday.
Amine El Khalifi, 29, who allegedly had overstayed his visa after first arriving in the U.S. when he was 16, was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against government property. He faces a sentence of life in prison if convicted.
On Friday, he appeared briefly in federal court in nearby Alexandria, Va., where most of the investigation was handled, but he did not enter a plea to the charges that were read to him.
According to Neil MacBride, the U.S. attorney in Alexandria, El Khalifi believed he was working for the Al Qaeda terror network when in fact it was FBI agents who had been closely monitoring him for over a year as part of the Washington field office’s joint terrorism task force.
Nevertheless, MacBride said, El Khalifi "devised the plot, the targets and the methods on his own."
His plan was to shoot his way into the Capitol building and then detonate the bomb, according to officials. He reportedly told undercover agents that he "would be happy killing 30 people."
He was arrested Friday morning in a parking garage near the Capitol after he "took possession" of a MAC-10 automatic weapon and strapped on a vest containing what he thought was a functioning bomb. But both weapons had been rendered inoperable, authorities said.
He walked alone from his vehicle toward the Capitol just two blocks away, officials said, "where he intended to shoot people and detonate the bomb." But agents arrested him before he made it out of the garage, they said.