BALTIMORE – A 21-year-old man charged with trying to blow up a military recruiting center briefly hesitated when he heard about a federal sting operation that nabbed an alleged terrorist in Oregon last month but decided to keep going with his plan, authorities said.
Antonio Martinez, a naturalized U.S. citizen who goes by the name Muhammad Hussain after recently converting to Islam, faces charges of attempted murder of federal officers and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
He told an informant working with the FBI he thought about nothing but jihad and wasn't deterred even after a Somali-born teenager was arrested in Portland, Ore., the day after Thanksgiving in a sting, court documents released Wednesday showed.
The Oregon suspect intended to bomb a crowded downtown Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. But — like Martinez — the people he'd been communicating with about the plot were with the FBI. Martinez wondered if he was headed down a similar path, documents say.
After hearing about the Oregon case, Martinez was uneasy and called the informant demanding to know who he was, according to court documents.
"I'm not falling for no b.s.," he told the informant. He said he still wanted to go ahead, but the informant told him to think about it overnight and call the next day, which Martinez did.
In the following days, Martinez reiterated his support for the plan several times, documents show, at one point reassuring the informant that he didn't feel pressured to carry it out: "I came to you about this, brother."
The bomb he's accused of trying to detonate was fake and had been provided by an undercover FBI agent. It was loaded into an SUV that Martinez parked in front of the recruiting center, authorities said, and an FBI informant picked him up and drove him to a nearby vantage point where he tried to set it off.
"There was never any actual danger to the public during this operation this morning," U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said Wednesday. "That's because the FBI was controlling the situation."
Martinez was in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Wednesday and was ordered held until a hearing Monday. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison on the weapon of mass destruction charge and 20 years on the attempted murder charge.
Authorities did not say where Martinez was born or why he converted to Islam.
A former girlfriend, Alisha Legrand, said she met him three or four years ago — before he became a Muslim — and described him as quiet. The two last spoke over the summer and Legrand, 20, said Martinez tried to get her to convert.
"He said he tried the Christian thing. He just really didn't understand it," she said, adding that he seemed to have his life under control after converting to Islam.
Public defender Joseph Balter cautioned against a rush to judgment.
"It's very, very early in this case," he said.
Asked to identify himself during Wednesday's hearing, Martinez said he was Muhammad Hussain but confirmed that Antonio Martinez is still his legal name. He wore an untucked, white button-down shirt and baggy blue jeans. His curly hair was long and unkempt, and he had sideburns and a goatee.
No one answered the door at his apartment in a tidy, three-story yellow building in a working-class northwest Baltimore neighborhood.
Court documents indicated Martinez "moved from place to place" because he didn't want anybody to find him.
His commitment to jihad caused strain in his family, the documents show. The FBI informant reported listening to Martinez during a long conversation with his mother.
"She wants me to be like everybody else, being in school, working," Martinez told the informant. "My wife understands. ... I told her I want to fight jihad. ... She said she doesn't want to stop me."
Martinez's Facebook page identifies his wife as Naimah Ismail-Hussain, who describes herself as a student and employee at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Attempts to reach her were not immediately successful.
According to the court documents, the informant first contacted the FBI on Oct. 8 after communicating with Martinez through Facebook, where he had posted notes that alluded to jihad.
"The sword is cummin the reign of oppression is about 2 cease," Martinez wrote in one post.
He picked the military recruitment center because he considered enlisting before he converted to Islam and had been inside, the documents showed.
Martinez told the informant he didn't know how to build a bomb, according to the documents, but investigators nonetheless believed he posed a genuine threat, Rosenstein said.
"The investigation was undertaken only because experts had made the determination that there was a real risk," he said.
Rosenstein stressed that Martinez acted alone and that the idea to blow up the military recruitment center was his, not the FBI's. He also noted that Martinez approached four people about the plot. Two declined to help him, one actively tried to dissuade him and the fourth was the informant who turned him into the FBI, Rosenstein said.
White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said the arrest underscores the need for vigilance against terrorism and illustrates why the Obama administration is focused on addressing "domestic radicalization."
Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko, Pete Yost and Brett Zongker in Washington, Alex Dominguez in Baltimore and AP news researcher Judith Ausuebel in New York contributed to this report.