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Md. man planned to run down crowds at National Harbor in an ISIS-inspired attack, prosecutors say

MGM National Harbor in Prince George’s County.
MGM National Harbor in Prince George’s County. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

(Update: Maryland man ordered detained after being accused of plotting ISIS-inspired attack near Washington . Story here

Federal authorities have arrested a Maryland man they say planned to plow a stolen U-Haul van into crowds at National Harbor, a large shopping and entertainment compound outside of Washington, as part of an Islamic State-inspired plot, court documents say.

Rondell Henry, 28, of Germantown was arrested March 28 at the waterfront complex in Prince George’s County with a U-Haul he had stolen from a parking garage in Alexandria, Va., two days earlier, according to a newly unsealed charging document.

Henry harbored “hatred” for “disbelievers” who didn’t practice Islam and admitted to the plot in interviews with authorities, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court for Maryland asking that he be detained in jail until trial.

Before he arrived at the Maryland complex, he spent nearly two hours at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia on March 27 assessing crowds there but finding too few people for the scale of attack he envisioned, court documents contend.

Henry is charged with transporting a stolen vehicle but no terrorism-related counts. Prosecutors detailed the terrorism-related accusations Monday in their detention memo.

Prosecutors allege Henry stole the van to “commit mass murder,” planning to target National Harbor after he unsuccessfully tried to breach security at Dulles.

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“He had no escape plan, intending to die while killing others for his cause,” the government said in the detention memo.

The Office of the Federal Public Defender in Maryland is representing Henry in the federal case. The office does not typically comment on pending cases and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thomas Mooney, an attorney for Henry in charges filed by Prince George’s County after his initial arrest at National Harbor, said Monday that Henry was “a valued member of the community with a peaceful and productive history. Because criminal charges are pending, no factual statements will be made at this time.” Mooney added, “We trust that the truth will surface and justice will prevail.”

Shortly after Prince George’s police arrested Henry on charges of breaking and entering, law enforcement committed him to a hospital for emergency psychiatric services, according to two law enforcement officials familiar with the case. Henry was taken into federal custody as soon as he was cleared from the hospital on April 3, the individuals said.

Henry, who is alleged to have broken into a boat near National Harbor and hidden there overnight, was arrested by Prince George’s County officers who noticed the stolen U-Haul in the area and were monitoring it to see who would approach it, the detention memo and the two law enforcement officials said. Police had seen Henry getting in and out of the car after reviewing surveillance video and arrested him when they spotted him leaping over a security fence from the boat dock, prosecutors said.

The government said in the detention memo that Henry sought out videos of terrorists beheading civilians and fighting overseas.

He “considered these gruesome actions brave and he wanted to emulate them,” the government said.

The government asserts in its filings that because Henry, a computer engineer, had no weapons training, he planned an attack using a vehicle, inspired by the terrorist truck attack in Nice, France, that killed 84 people and left dozens more injured.

Henry walked out of his job March 26 “determined to walk down the extremist path,” prosecutors said in court documents. Henry had a four-door sedan but stole a larger vehicle with the aim of causing more destruction, prosecutors said.

Montgomery County police reported Henry as a “critical missing person” on March 27 in a lookout that said Henry was last seen by co-workers around noon the day before “when he left his place of employment in Germantown” and his family had been unable to contact him.

Henry drove around the Washington area looking for a vehicle to steal, dumping his cellphone along an interstate highway to “destroy evidence of the inspiration behind his attack,” court documents alleged. The phone was recovered by law enforcement agents and included images of armed ISIS fighters, the ISIS flag and the Pulse nightclub shooter, prosecutors said.

To acquire a truck, Henry followed a U-Haul van to the parking garage of a mall in Alexandria and stole the vehicle on March 26, prosecutors said. The driver who had leased the van called police to report it stolen and said that he had noticed a blue BMW earlier following the U-Haul off Interstate 395 and parking next to the van, according to court documents. Police traced the BMW to Henry, court documents stated.

On March 27, Henry went to Dulles Airport about 5 a.m., prosecutors said in court filings, but the crowds were not big enough for Henry’s plan.

Prosecutors said Henry got out of the van and tried to access a restricted area of the airport “by piggybacking behind a cleared individual.” Unsuccessful, Henry studied a different security checkpoint to slip through, but couldn’t breach the airport security area, they said. After two hours at the airport, he drove to National Harbor, prosecutors said.

He arrived at National Harbor about 10 a.m. and wanted to create “panic and chaos,” the “same as what happened in France,” the detention memo said.

But Henry arrived at National Harbor on a weekday morning and didn’t see the crowd there that he wanted for the destruction he aimed for, officials said.

He parked the van and found a popular part of National Harbor for a planned attack, prosecutors said.

“He even calculated how he may have come off the road and onto the sidewalk in order to hit people,” the detention memo asserted. “With the crowds still too thin, however, the defendant needed a place to hide until the time was right, so he broke into a boat and hid there overnight.”

The next morning, police found the stolen U-Haul and watched to see who would return to the van, court documents stated. Police spotted Henry leaping over a security fence from the boat dock and arrested him, court documents stated.

Montgomery County police reported Henry was found on March 28.

FBI Baltimore spokesman Dave Fitz said that agents took Henry into federal custody April 3 and that the investigation is ongoing.

Henry is expected to appear in court for a detention hearing on Tuesday.

Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski said Monday that the case started with a stolen vehicle and a missing-person report but that after officers interviewed Henry and he made concerning statements, county detectives talked to the FBI and police in Montgomery and Alexandria and realized a larger threat might be at hand.

This was a “potential terror attack stopped,” Stawinski said.

“Prince George’s County is and remains a safe destination and the National Harbor remains a safe venue,” Stawinski said.

Dan Morse, Jennifer Jenkins, Jennifer Barrios, Rachel Weiner and Tom Jackman contributed to this report.

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