Updated 2:43 p.m. Wednesday
A federal judge ordered suspected terrorist Amine El Khalifi, 29, held in custody Wednesday as he awaits trail for allegedly planning to detonate a suicide bomb at the U.S. Capitol Building Friday.
Judge John Anderson said he knew of no condition or combination of conditions to release El Khalifi, who lived in a West End condominium complex while planning the attack. El Khalifi’s lawyers had previously waived the Moroccan national’s preliminary and detention hearings.
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Federal authorities are searching the Alexandria home of the man arrested Friday in Washington for plotting a suicide bomb attack on the U.S. Capitol Building.
Amine El Khalifi, 29, a Moroccan national living illegally in the U.S., was taken into custody heading toward the Capitol from his parked car wearing what he believed was a vest with a functioning bomb and carrying a disabled MAC-10 firearm. The arrest came following an investigation under way for a little more than a year.
El Khalifi never posed a threat to the public, officials said.
A federal law enforcement official, who requested anonymity, confirmed federal authorities were investigating Khalifi’s Wyndam Circle home on the west side of Alexandria Friday afternoon and evening. Neighbors, heading in and out of the gated community, expressed shock at the allegations.
“This is really scary,” said Tracy Coppola, who has lived in the neighborhood for five years. “You never expect it to be in your own backyard.”
Despite the noticeable presence of Alexandria police and television news crews, little seemed out of the ordinary for the residential complex.
“It’s a mixed demographic community, but I never would have thought a terrorist lived so close,” said resident Fionn McKenna. “ [But] these guys live everywhere. It’s tough to pick them out. It caught me off guard.”
The federal investigation into El Khalifi began in January 2011 after he met with several individuals in Arlington and allegedly discussed the war on terrorism as a “war on Muslims,” officials said. An anonymous tipster described the meeting, including that several revolvers, an AK-47 and ammunition were present, to the FBI.
Authorities allege El Khalifi tried to join an “armed extremist group” and in December was introduced to a man named “Yusuf,” an undercover law enforcement official. El Khalifi allegedly proposed a bombing attack targeting high-ranking U.S. military officials, a military office building, a synagogue and a restaurant known to host military officials.
During subsequent meetings with the undercover officer, El Khalifi apparently handled an AK-47 and allegedly showed interest in using the weapon to gun down people “face-to-face,” said Peter Carr, Department of Justice Spokesman, in a statement.
He went so far as to select a restaurant in Washington, survey the scene and buy equipment for the attack, according to authorities. On January 7 one of the two men helping him plan the attack identified himself as a member of al-Qaeda to El Khalifi and the two discussed a larger plot including an attack against a military installation.
“El Khalifi allegedly believed he was working with al-Qaeda and devised the plot, the targets and the methods on his own,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil MacBride in a statement.
Eight days after the conversation, El Khalifi allegedly changed his plans to target the Capitol. He used a cell phone to detonate a test bomb in a West Virginia quarry the same day, officials said. Following the explosion, El Khalifi allegedly asked for a more powerful bomb and selected February 17 as the date of his attack.
For the next month, authorities said El Khalifi visited the Capitol Building several times, surveying the area and planning the details of his “martyrdom operation.” He allegedly asked for a gun, to shoot interfering police officers, and requested remote detonation of the bomb if authorities detained him.
Federal law enforcement officials said El Khalifi parked near the Capitol Building Friday, grabbed the MAC-10, donned the explosive vest — both disarmed by authorities beforehand — and walked alone toward his target. Officials arrested him before he left the parking garage.
Authorities charged El Khalifi with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against property owned and used by the U.S. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. He appeared in court at 4:15 p.m. today.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gordon Kromberg and Michael ben’Ary of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case alongside Joseph Kaster and Courtney Sullivan of the Justice Department’s National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.