Amine El Khalifi, an illegal immigrant from Morocco charged with attempting to blow up the U.S. Congress in Washington DC, appeared in court on Monday for his trial.
The 29-year-old was arrested last Friday in a parking garage, a few blocks away from the U.S. Capitol building, as part of an anti-terror investigation said a report in The Washington Post.
Officials said the man, who lives in Alexandria in Virginia, was apparently preparing to carry out a suicide attack on the Washington DC building, home to the U.S. Congress.
Khalifi is believed to have overstayed a visitor visa since 1999 and was under investigation for more than a year. He was being “closely and carefully monitored” by the FBI according to a BBC News report.
According to reports, Khalifi does not have any known connections to al-Qaeda, although he thought he was dealing with members of the terrorist group, who turned out to be undercover agents. There have been a number of U.S. undercover operations in recent years where suspects thought they were plotting terror attacks, but were really being monitored by FBI agents.
Khalifi was arrested as he planned to detonate what he believed to be an explosive vest but turned out to be harmless equipment that had been handed to him by undercover FBI agents. He was also carrying an inoperable gun.
He considered other targets for the attack including an office building in Alexandria and a Washington restaurant, before settling for the Capitol. He had also visited the building on multiple occasions to plan the details of the alleged attack. According to the FBI affidavit, Khalifi detonated a test bomb just over a month ago in a quarry in West Virginia.
Khalifi made a brief court appearance and was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. property. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
From their side, the Moroccan authorities have condemned the alleged plot to bomb the Capitol. Morocco “condemns extremist ideas and their manifestation through violent acts,” the Kingdom was quoted by MAP as saying in a statement issued by its embassy in the United States. The North African country “offers its support and assistance to the U.S. authorities as they probe this case and reaffirms its commitment to the solid ties that bind the Kingdom and the United States,” it said.
(Additional writing by Rana Khoury)