WASHINGTON – A Marine reservist who was detained during a security scare near the Pentagon last week has been linked to the shootings last year at the Marine Corps museum in Quantico and several D.C.-area military recruitment stations, officials said Wednesday.
Ballistics evidence appears to link Yonathan Melaku, 22, to the shootings, one official said. The two officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Melaku, of Alexandria, Va., is being held without bail on unrelated larceny charges involving car break-ins that happened after the shootings. He has not been charged in last week's incident or the building shootings.
Melaku, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Ethiopia, was detained Friday after he was spotted carrying a suspicious backpack near the Pentagon containing what initially was feared to be bomb-making material. Authorities later said the suspicious items were not explosive.
Melaku also had a notebook with the words "al-Qaida" and "Taliban Rules" written inside, one of the officials has said. The context of the words was not immediately clear, but another law enforcement official has said Melaku is not believed to have any links to al-Qaida or any other terrorist organization.
He was detained for trespassing after being found after-hours inside Arlington National Cemetery.
The shootings last year, all done with the same gun, did not injure anyone. The Marine Corps museum was targeted twice. Two windows were shot out at the Pentagon, and a Marine Corps recruiting station in Chantilly, Va., outside Washington was also targeted.
At the time, FBI officials suspected that the shooter had some sort of gripe against the Marine Corps.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in the eastern District of Virginia, declined comment except to say that Melaku remains under investigation following last week's incident. FBI spokesman Andrew Ames also declined comment.
Melaku has a status hearing Thursday in Loudoun County, Va., on the grand larceny charges that accuse him in a spate of car break-ins and vandalism in Leesburg. He was arraigned in early June, and released on bail. After the Pentagon scare, more charges were added and he was held without bail.
The shootings started Oct. 17 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, about 30 miles south of Washington. Days later, the Pentagon was hit. Then, the shooter targeted a Marine Corps recruiting station in Chantilly before again firing on the museum. The fifth shooting was discovered at a Coast Guard recruiting station near a sprawling outlet mall in Woodbridge. The buildings were within 40 miles of each other.
Melaku joined the Marine Corps Reserve in September 2007 and was assigned as a motor vehicle operator to a unit based in Baltimore. He was not deployed overseas.
Spokesman Lt. Col. Francis Piccoli said Wednesday the Marine Corps was in the process of trying to remove him from the service based on the grand larceny charges. Melaku has not tried to contest his removal, Piccoli said.
Melaku's attorney, Robert May, did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
Barakat reported from McLean, Va. Associated Press writer Adam Goldman also contributed to this report.