wpostServer: http://css.washingtonpost.com/wpost2

Most Read: Local

Post Now
Posted at 03:06 PM ET, 06/17/2011

Suspect in Pentagon scare is in Marine Reserve


Yonathan Melaku (Courtesy Loudoun County police)
Updated, 2:53 p.m.: The suspect in a scare involving a suspicious abandoned vehicle near the Pentagon this morning is in the Marine Corps Reserve and appears to have been arrested in a string of car vandalism incidents in Leesburg, law enforcement officials said.

But the incident Friday, in which bomb disposal unit searched the car for explosives, does not appear to have posed a serious threat to the public.

Authorities are searching the home of 22-year-old Yonathan Melaku of Alexandria, according to the FBI. A man with the same name was arrested by police after more than 25 cars in Leesburg were damaged in the early morning hours of May 26. Melaku is also a decorated lance corporal in the Marine Forces Reserve 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, headquartered in Baltimore, according to the FBI.

Melaku’s home is in the Autumn Chase development near Beulah and Schurtz streets in Fairfax County.

“We went into a residence ... on the public safety provision to confirm [there were] no hazards. There is no public safety hazard at this time and we are in the process of obtaining a search warrant,” Andrew C. Ames, an FBI spokesman, wrote in an e-mail.

Melaku has not been charged in the Pentagon incident, which caused gridlock in northern Virginia for several hours during the morning commute.

Twitter: Reaction | Photos: The scene

The incident began about 1:30 a.m. when police found the man, who is in his 20s, at Arlington Cemetery, said Brenda Heck, a counterterrorism official for the FBI’s Washington field office. He fled officers, but was eventually taken into custody. Cemetery visiting hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Heck said the man’s backpack and behavior initially aroused concern. The sack contained items in bags, which initially appeared suspicious, Heck said. The man also refused to cooperate with officers and, after an interview, they decided it was important to find his car, Heck said.

Arlington County police found the red 2011 Nissan off Washington Boulevard near the Pentagon shortly before the morning commute began, according to Heck. The investigation closed Routes 27 and 110, all ramps to and from Interstate 395 near the Pentagon and eastbound Interstate 66 to Route 110. The Pentagon remained open.

An Arlington County bomb squad used a device to smash out the window of the Nissan to gain access and render it safe, said Lt. Gregg Karl, an Arlington Fire Department spokesman.

The man told authorities that he had bomb-making materials, including ammonium nitrate, in his backpack, but nothing harmful was found when bomb technicians ran a test at the scene, a federal law enforcement official said.

"It didn't burn, didn't blow up, didn't do anything,'' said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is unfolding. "We're not certain what the materials were, but it wasn't anything that was going to cause an explosion or even a fire.''

"This looks like a whole big bunch of nothing,'' said the official, who added that "the general consensus is that it might be some type of mental issue with the guy.''    

Authorities found a notebook in the car, with the words "al-Qaeda,'' "Taliban" and "mujahideen" written inside. But the official said there was no indication of any specific plot and that it would an overstatement to say it was "terrorist literature ... as we were going through the notebook, we just happened to see these words written on one page.''    

Spent shell casings were also found in the car. It is unclear what type of weapon they were from.  

 The official said the agencies that responded — including the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Pentagon and Arlington police — were appropriately suspicious. "With what's been going on in the world lately and what he said, unfortunately this is what we have to do,'' the official said. "You have to go to Defcon 1 and then work your way back down to make sure.''  

 "I'm sure people were upset sitting in traffic, but that's the price you pay living in the nation's capital.''

Earlier, some news outlets had reported that a suspicious device had been found in the man’s car and that police were searching for additional suspects who had fled the scene near the Pentagon.

“We do believe at this time that the individual acted alone,” Heck said at a 9:30 a.m. news conference.

Melaku faces four counts of grand larceny in connection with the Leesburg incidents, according to authorities. He was released on a $5,000 bond.

All the roads around the Pentagon have been reopened and traffic has dissipated, according to Dr. Gridlock.

Arlington National Cemetery was closed this morning while authorities investigated suspicious activity at the cemetery, according to cemetery spokeswoman Jennifer Lynch. It reopened shortly before 8:30 a.m.

Dan Stessel, a Metro spokesman, said rail service at the Pentagon station was operating normally this morning and ridership was up because of the situation. Buses that normally operate to or from the Pentagon were being rerouted to the Pentagon City Metro stop during the incident, he said.

On Monday, a driver was arrested after police found him with a gun and a suspicious package near the Pentagon.

Stay with PostLocal as the story develops.

Staff writers Caitlin Gibson, Allison Klein, Dana Hedgpeth and Mark Berman contributed to this report.


View Person taken into custody near Pentagon in a larger map

Updated, 8:12 a.m.: Channel 9 is reporting that authorities are planning to do a controlled explosion of the suspicious vehicle.

Updated, 7:46 a.m.: Authorities say one person has been taken into custody in connection with an investigation into a suspicious vehicle near the Pentagon, the Associated Press reported.

Pentagon police spokesman Chris Layman said the person was taken into custody early Friday, and that one or two other people may be involved. Layman said the man’s car was found in some bushes near the Pentagon’s north parking lot, according to the AP.

No further details about the investigation were immediately available.

The investigation has closed Routes 27 and 110 around the Pentagon, all ramps to and from Interstate 395 near the Pentagon and eastbound Interstate 66 to Route 110.

Dan Stessel, a Metro spokesman, said rail service at the Pentagon station is operating normally this morning and ridership is up because of the situation. He said there are bus bays at the Pentagon that are open “but getting to them is nearly impossible.” Buses that normally operate to or from the Pentagon are being rerouted to the Pentagon City Metro stop, he said.

Original Post: A person was taken into custody near the Pentagon after a suspicious device was found in a car, NBC News is reporting.

One or two other people fled the scene and police were searching for them, according to NBC.

An official told NBC News the device “looks like a bomb,” although it remained unclear what it was.

Roads remain closed around the Pentagon and Arlington County police said they are investigating a suspicious vehicle on Washington Boulevard.

By and  |  03:06 PM ET, 06/17/2011

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company