A Moroccan man was arrested yesterday as he sought to carry out a suicide attack on the US Capitol under the watch of the FBI, which was conducting a sting, officials said.
The FBI said it conducted an undercover operation as part of a longstanding terrorism probe of the suspect, who was arrested blocks from the Capitol building as he allegedly hoped to detonate what he believed to be live explosives.
“Explosives the suspect allegedly sought to use in connection with the plot had been rendered inoperable by law enforcement and posed no threat to the public,”‘ the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement.
US officials identified the man as Amine El Khalifi, 29.
US media reported that Khalifi was arrested after he accepted a vest, which he believed was filled with explosives, but which actually contained harmless material.
Authorities briefed US politicians – who gather in the Capitol building to debate and vote on legislation – on Khalifi’s arrest.
Republican senator Susan Collins said: “The brazen nature of this plot – targeting the US Capitol building with the aim of killing innocent people and desecrating a symbol of our democracy – is disturbing.
“While we are still learning details, this plot appears to be yet another example of radicalised extremists attempting to attack Americans from within our borders.”
Senator Collins, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said she was “alarmed at the growth of home-grown terrorist plots”, and pointed to figures that show a sharp rise in such thwarted plots in recent years.
According to the Congressional Research Service, between May 2009 and February 9, 2012 arrests were made in connection with 36 home-grown plots by Americans or permanent US residents, compared to 21 such plots between September 11, 2001 and May 2009.
Yesterday’s arrest was startling in that it marked a plot by a US-based suspect apparently intent on blowing himself up, whereas several previous sting operations foiled plots that did not necessarily involved a suicide attack.
Said Frances Townsend, George W. Bush’s former homeland security advisor, in a CNN interview: “I think we have this false sense that a suicide bombing…is unlikely to happen here.
“We shouldn’t assume that we’re immune from it here.”
US authorities have been on alert to terrorism plots in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, in which terrorists flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.