Attempted Capitol bombing thwarted

Looks like another “lone wolf” has come to the surface. The FBI has taken Amine El Khalifi, a 29 year old Moroccan man, into custody on the Capitol grounds. Khalifi seemed to have a pretty solid plan going, with an explosive packed suicide vest and an automatic weapon to take out any guards who might try to stop him. The one fly in the ointment for his scheme was that his al-Qaeda contacts who supplied him with the gear were actually federal agents, and neither the bomb nor the gun were functional.

For more than a year, Amine El Khalifi, of Alexandria, considered attacking targets including a synagogue, an Alexandria building with military offices and a Washington restaurant frequented by military officials, authorities said. When arrested a few blocks from the Capitol around lunchtime on Friday, he was carrying what he believed to be a loaded automatic weapon and a suicide vest ready for detonation.

The gun and vest were provided not by al-Qaeda, as Khalifi had been told, but by undercover FBI agents who rendered them inoperable, authorities said.

They said Khalifi had been the subject of a lengthy investigation and never posed a threat to the public. On Friday afternoon, he made an initial court appearance in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, where he was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against federal property. He faces life in prison if convicted.

It looks like the would be terrorist never actually made contact with any real bad guys and had been under the watchful eye of the FBI the entire time he was pondering his plans. But for what he may have lacked in competence and contacts, he more than made up for in sincerity. His plan was fairly simple… he just wanted to kill a lot of Americans.

An affidavit described El Khalifi strutting around a hotel room with the gun and vest, watching himself in the mirror as he practiced how to pull the trigger and detonate the vest bomb by calling a cellphone number.

He also allegedly discussed hitting military targets near the Pentagon and a restaurant during the crowded lunch hour in Washington. But eventually he settled on the Capitol, authorities said, planning to shoot his way inside and detonating the bomb. He reportedly told undercover FBI agents he “would be happy killing 30 people.”

Authorities are keeping the lid on details of how they discovered El Khalifi originally, as they should, but reports indicate that he felt that the War on Terror is a war on Muslims and intended to do something about it. One interesting aspect of the eventual trial – assuming there is one – will be how deeply involved the undercover agents were in “suggesting” the Capitol as the bombing target. It was probably not too hard to convince him to go after such a public, high profile prize, and also an area with less civilian traffic where they could more easily isolate and capture him. But in a sting like this, as the Washington Post indicates, they have to be careful not to do too much of the actual planning for him. We wouldn’t want this particular fish getting off the line over some sort of entrapment argument.