By Laura L. Myers
SEATTLE (Reuters) - One of two men accused of plotting to storm a military recruitment center in Seattle with machine guns and grenades in retaliation for U.S. military conduct in Afghanistan pleaded guilty on Thursday to conspiracy and weapons offenses.
Under his plea deal with federal prosecutors, Walli Mujahidh, 32, formerly of Los Angeles, will face a prison term of 27 to 32 years when he is sentenced in April, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement.
Terms of the deal are subject to approval by U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is presiding over the case. Mujahidh had faced a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted by a jury. His co-defendant, Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, 33, of Seattle, is due to go on trial in May 2012.
The pair, both U.S. citizens, were arrested in June and indicted the next month on charges of conspiring to attack the Military Entrance Processing Station, where enlistees are screened and processed, about 3 miles south of downtown Seattle.
"Today's plea underscores the threat posed by home-grown violent extremists and the need for continued vigilance to detect and dismantle their plots," Lisa Monaco, assistant U.S. attorney general for national security, said in a statement.
The plot came to light after an individual who had known Abdul-Latif for several years and had been asked to supply weapons for the planned attack went to police instead, becoming a paid undercover informant, according to court documents.
The informant told authorities Mujahidh suggested storming the recruitment station "with machine-guns and grenades and killing everyone there," the U.S. Attorney's Office said in its statement.
The next day, high-powered assault rifles that had been rendered inoperable by law enforcement agents were brought by the informant to the two suspects, who were arrested when they took possession of the guns, prosecutors said.
Abdul-Latif had told the informant, according to an FBI affidavit, that the planned attack was in retaliation for what he said were crimes by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
He also mentioned the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, where an Army psychiatrist is accused of killing 13 people, noting that "if one person could kill so many, three attackers could kill many more," the informant told authorities, according to the original criminal complaint.
Prosecutors have said the men originally planned to attack Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, the home installation of five U.S. soldiers charged with murdering unarmed civilians in Afghanistan, but then switched their intended target. Four of those soldiers were convicted or pleaded guilty to murder or manslaughter while the fifth still faces a court-martial.
Mujahidh pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder officers and agents of the United States, conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and unlawful possession of a firearm.
After being arrested, according to an FBI affidavit, he waived his legal rights and told federal agents that the plot was to prevent U.S. military personnel from going to Islamic lands and killing Muslims.
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)