According to the criminal complaint, during meetings with the undercover officer, Khalifi indicated his desire to conduct an operation in which he could carry out a shooting rampage in a restaurant. That restaurant — like the synagogue — was not identified in court documents.
On Jan. 15, Khalifi told undercover agents that he had modified his plans for the attack and wanted to conduct a suicide bombing at the Capitol, according to the complaint. It said that on that same day, at a quarry in West Virginia, Khalifi carried out a test bombing using a cellphone as a detonation device; the test bomb exploded, and Khalifi expressed a desire for a larger explosion in his attack.
On Friday, before preparing for what he allegedly considered a “martyrdom” mission, Khalifi prayed at Dar Al-Hijrah, a Northern Virginia mosque, according to its imam, Johari Abdul-Malik, who said he learned of Khalifi’s presence in an afternoon phone call from the FBI. “They said that the guy prayed at the mosque this morning,” Abdul-Malik said. “They said they’ve been following him for a long time now, and he’s not a regular attender at our mosque nor any other mosque.”
Khalifi was driven into downtown Washington by Yusuf and another man who was working undercover with the FBI. Afterward, Khalifi began walking alone toward the Capitol but quickly was arrested, authorities said.
“There is no doubt that this guy was committed,” said a law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation.
Following the arrest, FBI agents and Arlington police raided a red-brick rambler on Randolph Street in the Douglas Park neighborhood, near a wooded area with trails and a creek. Agents were seen going in and out of the house and searching the back yard. Arlington police said they were assisting with a search warrant.
As news of the arrest spread, several members of the mosque Khalifi visited expressed concern that they could be thrust into the spotlight once again, even though Khalifi was not thought to have been a regular worshiper at the mosque.
Dar Al-Hijrah has weathered repeated criticism for ties to worshipers who were found to have been terrorism suspects. The mosque’s leaders have noted that, as one of the largest mosques in the Mid-Atlantic, it attracts worshipers from all over, including many who attend infrequently.
In the past year, federal agents have arrested at least 20 people in the United States on terrorism-related charges, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Washington has been the alleged target in at least two terrorism cases. In one, a Massachusetts man of Bangladeshi descent was arrested for allegedly plotting to fly explosives-packed model planes into the Pentagon and the Capitol. In the other, Farooque Ahmed, a Pakistani American from Ashburn, attempted to bomb Washington area Metro stations. In both of those cases, the FBI relied on undercover agents.
Ashraf Nubani, a Muslim lawyer in Washington who has defended terrorism suspects in similar cases in the past, said he has has watched with alarm the increase of such FBI stings.
“It’s controlled from beginning to end by FBI. But you can’t create a terrorism case and then say you stopped it,” Nubani said. “Had the FBI not been involved, through their manipulation or informants, would the same thing have happened? Would there be attempted violence? They have their sights on certain people, the ones who talk big talk.”
Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said the affidavit in the Khalifi case makes clear that “at each step, it was the defendant who proposed the alleged plot and sought help in obtaining the weapons to carry it out.”
“Whenever we conduct an undercover operation of this sort, we fully anticipate that allegations of entrapment will be raised as a defense, and we conduct the investigation accordingly to assure that entrapment does not occur,” he said.
Khalifi is due in court Wednesday afternoon for a preliminary hearing.
Staff writers William Branigin, Jason Ukman, Jeremy Borden, Katherine Driessen, Allison Klein, Erica W. Morrison, Dan Morse and Clarence Williams and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.