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US Capitol suicide bomb plot foiled: How to catch a 'lone wolf'

The arrest of Amine El Khalifi, a Moroccan man suspected of plotting to blow himself up inside the US Capitol, shows how law enforcement has fine-tuned techniques to stop lone wolf terrorists.

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In lone wolf investigations, undercover agents are the horn of a vast surveillance cast net built up under the Department of Homeland Security since the 9/11 terror attacks, part of a growing, largely secret, bureaucracy in Washington profiled by the Washington Post in its “Top Secret America” series last year.

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Authorities in the Khalifi case were tipped off to the would-be bomber early last year when his landlord suspected a home “luggage business” was a front for bomb-making activities.

The tip-off began the meshing of the nation's surveillance gears, as the capitol region's Joint Terrorism Task Force, a conglomerate of local, state and federal law enforcement officers, swooped in to start surveillance.

According to John Miller, a former assistant FBI director, the JTTF moved swiftly to ascertain Khalifi's intentions and document his plan.

“By ... December, [agents] had introduced El Khalifi to 'Hussein,' who was cooperating with the FBI,” Mr. Miller writes for CBS News. “On Dec. 1, 2011, 'Hussein' drove El Khalifi to Baltimore to meet with a shadowy figure named Yusuf. Hussein told El Khalifi that Yusuf was a man who could help him realize his goal: To attack America. Yusuf claimed to be from al Qaeda, but was actually an undercover officer working for the JTTF.”

Similar tactics were employed by JTTF offices against other recent alleged terror plotters, including Jose Pimentel, who was arrested in November for plotting attacks on targets in New York, as well as in the case of Rezwan Ferdaus of Massachusetts, who was arrested in September 2011 for allegedly planning to fly bomb-filled remote controlled airplanes into the dome of the US Capitol.

El Khalifi, who came to the US as a teenager, was in the country illegally, but had flown for years under the radar of immigration authorities. A number of questions confronted the FBI and other federal authorities as they watched him, including whether moving in and arresting him would scatter other potential accomplices into the shadows.

That question became moot on Friday as El Khalifi began putting his plan into motion. He was arrested, authorities say, near the Capitol, wearing the non-functioning suicide vest provided to him by the undercover agent.

IN PICTURES: American Jihadis

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