A Virginia man charged with plotting a suicide bombing inside the U.S. Capitol as part of an FBI sting will remain in jail while he awaits trial after he waived his right to a detention hearing Wednesday.
Amine El Khalifi, 29, of Alexandria, appeared in U.S. District Court for a hearing lasting less than five minutes. He also waived his right to a preliminary hearing, and his case now goes to a grand jury for an indictment.
El Khalifi, who according to court documents is a native of Morocco who has been living illegally in the U.S. for more than a decade, was arrested Friday following a year-long investigation and charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.
An FBI affidavit traces the evolution of El Khalifi's alleged plotting, saying he revealed his intentions to an undercover FBI operative he thought was a member of al-Qaida.
According to the affidavit, El Khalifi spoke in December of wanting to attack a synagogue and Army generals. But within days, he was settling on a new plan to bomb a bustling Washington restaurant at lunchtime, the affidavit states. In January, he changed his mind, saying he wanted to blow himself up inside the Capitol as an act of martyrdom and chose the date of Feb. 17, authorities said.
El Khalifi went as far as to don a suicide vest provided to him by the undercover operatives before he was arrested, according to the affidavit. The suicide vest turned out to be inert, and a gun that had been provided to him to shoot his way past security guards also was inoperative. Officials say the public was never in danger.
According to court papers, El Khalifi told his supposed co-conspirators that he would be happy if he could kill 30 people in the attack.
It is not entirely clear how El Khalifi came to the attention of authorities. Court papers state only that a confidential source reported El Khalifi to the FBI in January 2011 after he allegedly met with others at an Arlington residence and told others that the group needed to be ready for war, and that he agreed with others who believed the war on terror to be a war on Muslims. One individual at that meeting produced what appeared to be an AK-47 rifle.
An acquaintance of El Khalifi, who attended Wednesday's hearing, said the suspect was relatively well-known to worshippers at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church. El Khalifi stood out because he wore a Mohawk haircut and had tattoos, and was in the habit of carrying a white towel with him because he was concerned about his sweaty palms, said the acquaintance, who gave only his last name of Mohamed because he said he did not want to attract notoriety.
Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, the mosque's outreach director, said Wednesday that he was told by the FBI after El Khalifi's arrest that the suspect was "not a regular at your mosque or any mosque in the area."
Mohamed said he is shocked by the charges and feels bad for El Khalifi, who apparently has little if any family in the area.
El Khalifi's lawyer, Kenneth Troccoli, declined comment after Wednesday's hearing.
Also Wednesday, authorities confirmed a second person has been charged in an offshoot of the sting that resulted in El Khalifi's arrest. But the weapons charges against Saad Elorch, 26, are only tangentially related to the case against El Khalifi. The charges against Elorch make no allegation of terrorist activity. Court records say he was arrested Tuesday and charged with illegal possession of a firearm.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Alexandria says the two cases developed out of the same broad investigation but are otherwise unrelated.