Moroccan pleads guilty to suicide bomb plot on US Capitol

Amine El Khalifi, an illegal immigrant from Morocco, admitted Friday to planning a suicide-bomb mission aimed at the US Capitol Building. He believed the operation was sponsored by Al Qaeda, but the FBI was linked in all along.

Dana Verkouteren/Reuters/Handout
An artists' courtroom sketch shows Amine El Khalifi, an illegal immigrant from Morocco as he is brought before a judge in the Federal Courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, in February.

An undocumented immigrant from Morocco pleaded guilty on Friday to attempting to carry out a suicide bomb attack on the US Capitol Building in February.

Amine El Khalifi of Alexandria, Va., admitted in federal court that he planned to detonate a jacket-bomb and use a gun to carry out a terrorist attack in what he thought was an operation sponsored by Al Qaeda.

In fact, Mr. El Khalifi was dealing with an undercover law enforcement official posing as a terrorist but who was really working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

El Khalifi has been in federal custody since his arrest on Feb. 17, shortly after undercover agents dropped him off in a parking garage and he started walking toward the Capitol, presumably to carry out the attack. At the time he was wearing the jacket-bomb and carrying a MAC-10 automatic weapon. He was arrested soon after leaving the vehicle.

Unknown to El Khalifi, both the bomb and the MAC-10 had been rendered inoperable by undercover officers.

El Khalifi admitted the charges as part of a plea agreement. Although he faces up to life in prison, the government has agreed to recommend he receive a sentence of 25 to 30 years in prison. He also agreed to not contest his deportation to Morocco after serving his sentence.

US District Judge James Cacheris set sentencing for Sept. 14.

“Amine El Khalifi sought to bring down the US Capitol and kill as many people as possible,” US Attorney Neil MacBride said in a statement. “He admitted today that he picked the targets, weapons, and means of the suicide attack while working with someone he believed was an Al Qaeda operative.”

According to court documents, El Khalifi first came to the knowledge of law enforcement officials in January 2011 after a confidential source told the FBI that El Khalifi had made statements that the US “war on terrorism” was a “war on Muslims.” He was quoted as telling others that they needed to be ready for war.

In December, El Khalifi attempted to join what he thought was an extremist group. His contact introduced him to an undercover agent posing as an Al Qaeda operative, documents say.

In discussions that followed, El Khalifi said he wanted to bomb an office building housing US military personnel, a restaurant frequented by military officers, and a synagogue. Eventually, he decided the operation should be a suicide attack on the US Capitol, court documents say.

At one point in January 2012, El Khalifi was taken to a remote quarry in West Virginia where a sample explosive was detonated. El Khalifi reportedly told the undercover agents that he wanted the bomb in his attack to be larger and more powerful. He also told the undercover agent that the operation would take place on Feb. 17, 2012.

During discussions about the pending attack, El Khalifi asked the undercover agent to remotely detonate the jacket-bomb if security officials attempted to subdue him and prevent him from detonating it himself, documents say.

Over the next month, he conducted surveillance of the Capitol, to determine how he would enter the building to conduct the attack. He told the undercover agent that he did not wish to make a martyrdom video because he did not want people to know who carried out the bombing, according to court documents.

Later, when the undercover agent suggested that Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri wanted to release a statement after the Capitol attack, El Khalifi asked that he be referred to only as “Al Maghrabi.”

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