A self-radicalized Virginia man was sentenced Friday to 25 years in prison for shooting at military monuments and facilities, including the Pentagon.
Yonathan Melaku, a former marine reservist from Alexandria, Va., was arrested in June 2011 tried to enter the Arlington National Cemetery to desecrate grave markers of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan because he saw those conflicts as part of a war against Muslims. Melaku told officials he wanted to deface the markers with Arabic statements using black spray paint and leaving ammonium nitrate at the sites.
He said he wanted to send a message that "you can't be fighting over there" and that he wanted people "to be afraid for supporting the war."
Melaku carried a backpack containing several used 9mm shell casings, four bags of ammonium nitrate, and a notebook containing references to the Taliban, al-Qaida, and Osama bin Laden when he was arrested.
Court records show Melaku carried out shootings at multiple locations, including the National Museum of the Marine Corps, the Pentagon, a Marine Corps recruiting substation in Chantilly, and a U.S. Coast Guard recruiting office in Woodbridge. The shootings took place late at night or early in the morning and involved several 9mm rounds fired at each building.
Melaku videotaped the shooting of the National Museum of the Marine Corps with a video camera secured within the interior of his vehicle. The video showed Melaku firing repeatedly at his target with a handgun and stating: "That's my target. That's the military building. It's going to be attacked." Melaku was also seen shouting "Allahu Akbar" several times after the shooting incident.
Melaku pleaded guilty a year ago to three felony charges, including injuring property of the United States, use of a firearm during a crime of violence, and attempted injury to veterans' memorials on U.S. property.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Neil H. MacBride, applauded the sentence in a Justice Department press release: "Yonathan Melaku is a self-radicalized terrorist who carried out a campaign of fear that escalated until his arrest. He took calculated steps to target specific military buildings, cover up his crimes, and plan even more destruction should his message not be heard. This sentence is just punishment for the danger he poses to our community."