WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors on Thursday charged a Marine Corps reservist with shootings at four military buildings around Washington, including the Pentagon, and said they found he had bomb-making materials.
Yonathan Melaku, 22, was apprehended Friday near Arlington National Cemetery and authorities found bullet casings and small bags of a powder later identified as ammonium nitrate in his backpack that he dropped as he tried to flee.
They also found a notebook that made references to the Taliban, al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and “The Path to Jihad,” raising already heightened concerns that a so-called “lone wolf” could have been planning an attack in the United States.
“These were not junior highers shooting BB guns at a local school,” Neil MacBride, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, told reporters.
“The contents of Mr. Melaku’s backpack and the evidence recovered at his residence was of great concern and alarm,” said MacBride, adding that the investigation was continuing.
Mekalu has been charged only on four weapons counts so far, including firing on the Pentagon and the National Museum of the Marine Corps last October. Prosecutors did not file charges related to the other materials found but could add them later.
If convicted on all of the firearms charges, Melaku could face life in prison.
U.S. law enforcement authorities have been increasingly worried about lone individuals sympathetic toward al Qaeda trying to carry out attacks in the United States, particularly in the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden.
The head of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, James McJunkin, told reporters that Melaku was not on their radar screen before he was apprehended. He declined to detail any motive other than that Melaku had sought to shut down military offices.
Ammonium nitrate is a fertilizer that can be used in homemade bombs and when combined with fuel it can create the same powerful explosive used in the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.
Authorities searching Melaku’s home turned up documents on his laptop computer about bomb-making and explosives. They also found a list titled “Timer” detailing items that could be used for an explosive device, and several were crossed out, including a digital kitchen timer and a 9-volt battery.
But Mekalu still needed fuel and a detonating device for the bomb as well as some components for the timer, according to an FBI affidavit filed with the charges.
In addition to firing on the Pentagon, he is accused of shooting twice at the Marine Corps museum in Triangle, Virginia, once at a Marine Corps recruiting office in Chantilly, Virginia and a Coast Guard recruiting station in Woodbridge, Virginia.
They also discovered in his home videos including one that showed him firing a handgun repeatedly at what appeared to be the Marine Corps museum from a vehicle, the affidavit said. He appeared to be driving alone, it said.
After firing several shots, he yelled “Allahu Akbar” repeatedly on the video, the affidavit said. FBI technicians determined that the five shooting incidents all involved the same gun, based on bullets and fragments recovered.
The ammunition was the same kind as the spent shells found in Melaku’s backpack, the affidavit said. The weapon used in the shootings has been located, according to McJunkin, but he declined to say where it was found.
No one was injured in any of the shootings and there was only minor damage. They all took place either late at night or early in the morning.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)
This story corrects the spelling of MacBride's name in 4th paragraph