By Lily Kuo
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (Reuters) - A Moroccan man pleaded guilty on Friday to attempting to bomb the U.S. Capitol building in Washington in February, 2012, and could face up to 30 years in prison.
Amine El Khalifi, 29, an illegal immigrant living in Alexandria, Virginia, struck an agreement with prosecutors under which he pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court in Virginia.
He was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against property owned and used by the United States, intending to detonate a bomb and to shoot people.
"I plead guilty," he said, standing before Judge James C. Cacher for the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia. El Khalifi, dressed in a gray penitentiary jumpsuit and with a beard that reached several inches below his chin, appeared relaxed as he chatted with his lawyers before and after the court proceedings.
El Khalifi was arrested in a parking garage near the U.S. Capitol on February 17 wearing a vest he believed was full of explosives supplied by al-Qaeda, U.S. officials said. He had believed he was working with al-Qaeda militants when in fact his contacts were undercover U.S. agents, they said.
He also had with him a semi-automatic weapon which he said he would use to shoot people before detonating the bomb inside the U.S. Capitol building, according to the complaint. Both the bomb and the gun had already been rendered inoperable, the FBI said.
El Khalifi had been the subject of a lengthy undercover investigation by the FBI. They said he had become known to them in January 2011 when a confidential source told authorities that El Khalifi met with others in Virginia and agreed with statements that the group needed to be ready for war, according to court documents.
(Reporting by Lily Kuo; Editing by Greg McCune and Vicki Allen)