FBI Foils Terror Attack on Congress
By Matthew Vadum
A Muslim convert trying to join the Islamic State terrorist group was arrested by the FBI in Ohio yesterday for plotting to bomb the United States Capitol and murder government employees.
The uncovering of the alleged plan of 20-year-old Christopher Lee Cornell to detonate pipe bombs around the Capitol and shoot people in the complex is especially impressive because the Obama administration has placed politically correct handcuffs that limit federal investigators.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) praised the FBI, adding that the Cornell arrest is also “an important reminder of the very real threat that radical Islam continues to pose to the homeland.”
Cornell hails from Ohio, a hotbed of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) activity. CAIR, a Muslim Brotherhood front group, has been designated a terrorist group by the United Arab Emirates. CAIR has offices in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus.
Karen Dabdoub, executive director of CAIR’s Cincinnati chapter, told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “I haven’t heard of him.”
Cornell stands accused of “Attempted Killing of a U.S. Government Officer” (Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 1114) and “Possession of Firearm in Furtherance of Attempted Crime of Violence” (Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 924(c)).
Starting last year Cornell used a Twitter account under the name Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah, FBI Special Agent T.A. Staderman, a member of the FBI’s Cincinnati-Dayton Joint Terrorism Task Force, said in a sworn criminal complaint filed in federal court in Cincinnati yesterday.
Using Twitter, Cornell “posted statements, videos, and other content indicating his support” for Islamic State and “for violent jihad, as well as support for violent attacks committed by others in North America and elsewhere.”
In August last year Cornell used a separate messaging platform to communicate with a confidential informant working with the FBI. He indicated that he had been in contact with individuals overseas but did not expect to receive specific authorization to carry out a terrorist attack within the U.S. Despite this, he wrote that he wanted to move forward in order to show support for the Islamic State.
“I believe that we should just wage jihad under our own orders and plan attacks and everything,” he wrote, according to the criminal complaint. Cornell bragged that, “we already got a thumbs up from the Brothers over there and Anwar al Awlaki before his martyrdom and many others.” U.S.-born Al-Awlaki was a senior al-Qaeda official killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen in 2011.
The complaint states that Cornell “made it clear that the attacks he contemplated were to be conducted in alliance with ISIL by writing, ‘I believe we should meet up and make our own group in alliance with the Islamic State here and plan operations ourselves.”
Cornell saved money for the attack and researched firearms, how to make pipe bombs, and targeted government buildings in Washington, D.C.
On Tuesday and yesterday Cornell and the confidential informant took the final steps necessary to travel to the nation’s capital and carry out the plan. Yesterday Cornell bought and took possession of two Armalite Inc. model M-15, 5.56mm, semi-automatic rifles and about 600 rounds of ammunition, at which point he was arrested by law enforcement.
Congressional leaders were relieved by news of the arrest.
“Once again, the entire Congress owes a debt of gratitude to the FBI and all those who keep us safe,” said Kara Hauck, a spokeswoman for Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio).
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security reportedly sent a joint memo about the case to law enforcement agencies nationwide.
“The alleged activities of Cornell highlight the continued interest of US-based violent extremists to support designated foreign terrorist organizations overseas, such as [Islamic State], by committing terrorist acts in the United States,” the memo stated. “Terrorist group members and supporters will almost certainly continue to use social media platforms to disseminate English language violent extremist messages.”
After the suspect was taken into custody, the FBI arrived at the Cornell family’s house and seized two desktop computers, one laptop computer, and four cellphones.
His father, John Cornell, described Christopher as a “momma’s boy who never left the house,” adding his son “found peace in the religion.”
“Everything you’re hearing in the media right now, they’ve already painted him as some kind of terrorist,” the father said. “They’ve painted him as some kind of jihadist. … (Christopher) is one of the most peace-loving people I know.”
“We always see the looks people give my son,” said the father. “One time, he was just walking across the street to the store and people driving by threw (objects) at him. Hey, that’s my son and I love him just the same.”
The United States Capitol has become an attractive target for Muslim would-be attackers in the Obama era.
In early 2012 Amine El-Khalifi was arrested in connection with a plot to launch a suicide attack on the Capitol. He had to hoped to kill as many as 30 people. Undercover agents posed as al-Qaeda members. In a garage near the Capitol they provided him with what he believed was a MAC-10 automatic machine pistol and what he believed was a functioning suicide bomber vest. The man put on the vest and “walked alone from the vehicle toward the United States Capitol, where he intended to shoot people and detonate the bomb,” according to the FBI, but was taken into custody before leaving the garage.
An illegal alien from Morocco, El-Khalifi accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to 30 years in prison, after which he will be deported. He expressed no remorse at sentencing, telling the court, “I just want to say that I love Allah. That’s it.”
In 2011 U.S.-born Rezwan Ferdaus was arrested after he planned to use large remote-controlled model airplanes armed with C-4 plastic explosives to attack the Capitol and the Pentagon.
According to the FBI, Ferdaus gave a copy of his “extremely detailed, well-written, and annotated” plan to individuals he thought were al-Qaeda members. Undercover agents let Ferdaus inspect explosives, grenades, and a half dozen fully-automatic AK-47 rifles that he sought for his planned assault. He locked the materiel away in his storage unit and was then arrested on the spot. In late 2012 Ferdaus was sentenced to 17 years in prison to be followed by 10 years of supervised release.
Meanwhile, Christopher Lee Cornell is scheduled to make court appearances in coming days.
A detention hearing is set for Friday and a preliminary hearing is set for Jan. 22 before Magistrate Judge Stephanie K. Bowman, according to the docket for the case at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.