By Debbie Siegelbaum - 02/17/12 06:36 PM EST
The suspect has been identified as Amine El Khalifi, a 29 year-old illegal immigrant from Morocco residing in Alexandria, Va.
El Khalifi has been charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against property that is owned and used by the United States, according to a statement Friday from the Department of Justice.
The DOJ noted that the arrest was the culmination of an investigation of the suspect by the FBI, which included undercover agents posing as members of al Qaeda.
“The complaint filed today alleges that Amine El Khalifi sought to blow himself up in the U.S. Capitol Building,” wrote Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, in the DOJ statement. “El Khalifi allegedly believed he was working with al Qaeda and devised the plot, the targets and the methods on his own.”
The explosives and firearm that El Khalifi allegedly sought and attempted to use had been rendered inoperable by law enforcement and posed no threat to the public, the DOJ added.
The arrest near the Capitol was carried out by the FBI and Capitol Police, wrote Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider in a statement.
“This arrest was the culmination of a lengthy and extensive operation during which the individual was closely and carefully monitored,” Schneider wrote. “The U.S. Capitol Police was intimately involved in the investigation for the duration of the operation. At no time was the public or Congressional community in any danger.”
The FBI did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but lawmakers reacted swiftly to the news of the arrest.
The ranking member of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), said she had been in contact with the FBI about the arrest of El Khalifi.
“The brazen nature of this plot — targeting the U.S. Capitol building with the aim of killing innocent people and desecrating a symbol of our democracy — is disturbing,” she said in a statement.
"While we are still learning details, this plot appears to be yet another example of radicalized extremists attempting to attack Americans from within our borders,” Collins added.
Collins noted the sharp escalation in homegrown terrorist plots in recent years, citing a report by The Congressional Research Service that identified 36 arrests in such cases between 2009 and 2012.
"Today's arrest is a reminder that we must redouble our efforts to confront the threat posed by violent Islamist extremism, while making the clear distinction between a major religion followed by millions of law abiding Americans and a twisted ideology,” Collins concluded.
The chairman of the Committee on House Administration echoed the sentiment.
“Today’s incident serves as an important reminder of the need for constant vigilance to protect this nation and its capital from the threat of those who wish to do us harm,” wrote Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) in a statement following the arrest.
“I applaud the FBI and the United States Capitol Police in their efforts to protect the U.S. Capitol,” he added. “I thank the dedicated men and women in law enforcement in these and other agencies across the country.”
El Khalifi made his initial court appearance at 4:15 p.m. Friday, according to the DOJ. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Updated at 4:10 p.m., 4:21 p.m. and 5:05 p.m.