Yonathan Melaku, the Northern Virginia man who caused a terror scare near the Pentagon last week, has now been charged with shooting at four military sites. Authorities say the Marine Reservist videotaped himself shouting "Allahu Akbar" when he fired his gun, and they believe he also may have been building a bomb.
Federal officials said in court papers that Melaku had videotaped himself shouting "Allahu Akbar" after firing shots at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia in October. The shots did almost $90,000 of damage to museum windows, say authorities. The shooting incidents at the museum, the Pentagon and two military recruiting centers occurred late at night or early in the morning between mid October and early November of last year.
According to the U.S. Attorney's office, if convicted Melaku faces a minimum of 35 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison.
Melaku, a 22-year-old Ethiopian native, has not been charged with any terrorism offenses, but was in possession of ammonium nitrate when arrested at Arlington National Cemetery last Friday. Federal agents say they found a typed list of bomb-making materials with the heading "timer" when they searched his home in Alexandria.
"According to an FBI bomb technician," says an FBI affidavit, "the items on this list are consistent with the requirements for a time power unit and firing mechanism of an improvised explosive device (IED). Those items, combined with Ammonium Nitrate, would in fact make up several significant components required for the manufacture of an IED."
Agents also conducted a review of Melaku's computer and found "numerous documents concerning bomb-making and explosives," according to the affidavit in the case.
At a press conference Thursday, James McJunkin, FBI Assistant Director in Charge of the Washington Field Office, declined to say how far Melaku was from making a viable bomb, but an FBI affidavit alleged that several items on the bomb-making list had been crossed off.
The FBI affidavit also says that while "driving in proximity to what appears to be the National Museum of the Marine Corps and repeatedly firing a handgun from the vehicle out of the passenger-side window….at the conclusion of multiple shots Melaku exclaimed 'Allahu Akbar' repeatedly. It appears Melaku was alone in the vehicle and that he had positioned the video camera in order to record his shooting at the Museum."
At the time of the shootings last fall, the FBI said it suspected the shooter was a disgruntled military man.
"We believe this suspect has a grievance surrounding the U.S. Marine Corps," John Perren, then the acting assistant director of the FBI's Washington field office, said of the shooter in October 2010. "We'd like to know what this grievance is and what we can do to try to help solve it."
Shootings Began In October
The military shootings began Oct. 17, 2010 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, when someone fired at least 10 bullets at the building. Two days later, six or seven shots were fired at the Pentagon, and bullets became embedded in the building's blast-proof windows. On Oct. 26, shots were fired at a Marine Corps recruiting center in Chantilly, Va.
The shooter struck a second time at the Marine Corps museum on Oct. 29, then hit a Coast Guard recruiting station in early November.
Melaku was arrested in the early-morning hours Friday in Arlington National Cemetery after he ran from a police officer on patrol. Police found three shell cartridges and baggies containing a substance that turned out to be ammonium nitrate in his backpack. The ammonium nitrate was determined to be inert.
Authorities feared he may have been targeting the Pentagon and the nearby Marine Iwo Jima Memorial. The resulting investigation shut down traffic around the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery for hours Friday morning, snarling morning rush hour traffic.
Melaku is still a Marine reservist, but as a result of last Friday's arrest paperwork has been filed for the Lance Corporal to be separated administratively from the service. His arrest brought to light that he was already wanted on a grand larceny charge for alleged car break-ins in Leesburg, Virginia. He is currently in custody in Loudoun County.
"Melaku was notified Tuesday at the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center that he will be processed for administrative separation due to charges of serious offense," said the Marine Corps in a statement.