The case of alleged would-be suicide bomber Amine el Khalifi, accused of targeting the U.S. Capitol, is a significant and troubling development in the tracking of homegrown terror plots, some law enforcement and senior lawmakers say.
“Now you have a person living in this country 12 years, who apparently was willing to be a suicide bomber, that is a line that's been crossed,” Republican Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told Fox News. “I think we're going to have to re-think some of our conceptions, ideas we're basing our activities on because it was always felt that it was very unlikely that we would have a suicide bomber (inside the US.)”
On Friday, during a brief appearance in a Virginia federal court, Khalifi was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction -- in this case -- a fake suicide vest provided to him by an undercover agent who posed as an Al Qaeda operative.
The 29-year-old Moroccan national had been in the United States illegally since 1999 when his tourist visa expired, court records show. Arrested just two blocks from the Capitol building, the criminal complaint stated that the suspect allegedly planned to shoot any police officer who blocked his entry to the Capitol, where he planned to blow himself up. His alleged motive was a false narrative propagated on radical websites and through social networking.
“There’s no doubt to me that jihadist extremists definitely believe that the U.S. is at war with Islam,” King explained. In December, in its first joint session, the House and Senate Homeland Security committees investigated the growing number of plots targeting the U.S. military. “An American in uniform is the personification of what they consider to be evil.”
The ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Susan Collins, said the plot looked like another example of radicalized extremists targeting the U.S., adding that the spike in homegrown cases is alarming.
"Between May 2009 and Feb. 9, 2012, arrests were made in connection with 36 'homegrown' plots," she said. "By comparison, in the more than seven years from Sept. 11, 2001, through May 2009, there were only 21 such plots."
In December, Khalifi allegedly redoubled his efforts to commit jihad. He told an undercover agent that he wanted to detonate a bomb at a building in Alexandria, Va., that houses U.S. military offices. His targets then ranged from a synagogue to a Washington, D.C., restaurant, popular with the military, until he settled on the Capitol itself.
As part of its ongoing investigation of the American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, the Fox Specials unit has shown how the cleric became the leader of Al Qaeda 2.0 – the new generation of recruits. Al-Awlaki leveraged social networking to spread his ideology of hate. Whether he was blogging or Skyping, the New Mexico-born cleric was the Facebook friend from hell.
While Khalifi’s alleged path to radicalization will become known in the coming days, a law enforcement source said it would not be surprising if the Moroccan national was a follower of the cleric on the Web. While al-Awlaki was killed in a CIA led operation in Yemen Sept. 30, becoming the first American targeted for death, his ideas live on.
“Almost every case, we’ve got at least one a month, these guys are following him (Awlaki) or reading his lectures,” the law enforcement source said.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.