In plan to attack recruiting center, echoes of Christmas tree bombing plot

A Baltimore resident is charged with attempting to explode a car bomb at a military recruiting center. Undercover FBI operatives posed as militant Muslims to catch the recent convert.

Steve Ruark/AP
Antonio Martinez, also known as Muhammad Hussain, of Baltimore faces charges of attempted murder and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction after authorities say he tried to detonate what he thought was a bomb at the Armed Forces Career Center in Catonsville, Md.

Another would-be jihad car bomber has been arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as part of an undercover sting operation.

Antonio Martinez, 21, of Baltimore appeared in federal court on Wednesday and was charged with attempting to explode a car bomb at a military recruiting station in Catonsville, Md.

There was no real bomb. It was all a setup arranged by undercover FBI sources and operatives posing as militant Muslims.

IN PICTURES: American Jihadis

But Mr. Martinez didn’t know that.

The case is similar to the Nov. 26 arrest of a 19-year-old Somali-American who was taken into custody after he attempted to use a cell phone to trigger what he thought would be a car bomb at a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore. The bomb was a fake. His would-be militant co-conspirators were undercover FBI operatives.

The Martinez operation followed the same strategy. The FBI used undercover operatives to conduct a series of conversations with Martinez, whom they suspected held radical ideas about taking violent action in the US.

Just as in the Portland case, there is no indication from court files that Martinez possessed the knowledge or ability to build or acquire a car bomb. According to an FBI affidavit in the court file, it is not clear that he could obtain a single firearm.

At one point, according to court files, he told someone identified in the FBI affidavit as a "confidential source": “I wish I knew how to make a car bomb.” He then discussed another option: “If you stuff the exhaust with something, like a sock or something … the car … it’ll run, but … all the toxic fumes will come into the inside of the car … so if they start to drive … they will breathe in all those fumes … and they gonna like slowly but surely die in the car,” he said.

He added: “Just some ideas, you know what I’m saying.”

According to court documents, the undercover operatives did all the technical work for him. They assembled the “bomb,” then asked him to scout out a place to park the vehicle. They also asked him if he really wanted to carry out the attack.

“I came to you about this, brother,” he said.

The operation nearly fell apart because of similarities to the Nov. 26 case in Portland. After seeing news accounts of the sting operation and arrest, Martinez phoned the same unnamed confidential source and expressed concern about an undercover FBI agent who was posing as an Afghan militant.

Martinez told the source that he needed to know “who this brother is. … I’m not falling for no B.S.,” according to the affidavit.

Martinez agreed to continue planning the operation against the recruiting station after the undercover agent expressed similar distrust of him.

Martinez is a married, unemployed construction worker and recent convert to Islam. He had taken the Islamic name Mohammad Hussain.

During the two-month undercover operation, Martinez was made to believe he was part of an undercover terror cell bent on waging violent holy war against what he perceived as a military target in the US.

In fact, the operatives strung him along, apparently in an effort to identify like-minded Muslim-Americans known to Martinez.

Martinez contacted several associates about joining the plot. They all turned him down, according to officials.

“Every person Mr. Martinez asked to join in his scheme either declined to participate, tried to talk him out of it, or reported him to the FBI,” US Attorney Rod Rosenstein said in a statement. “There is no evidence that Mr. Martinez received direction or support from any other person.”

Martinez had scouted the recruiting station and sketched a map of the parking area. On Wednesday morning, according to the affidavit, he parked what he believed was a bomb-laden SUV outside the recruiting office. He was then picked up and driven to a location to view the explosion. Agents placed him under arrest after he attempted to remotely trigger the blast.

He is charged with attempting to murder federal officials and with attempting to use a bomb against government property.

If convicted he faces from 20 years to life in prison.

IN PICTURES: American Jihadis

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