A Virginia resident who thought he would be serving Allah by becoming the first suicide bomber in the United States was sentenced to 30 years in prison Friday.
"I just want to say that I love Allah. That's it," Amine El-Khalifi, 29, told U.S. District Judge James Cacheris before the sentence was issued.
Public defender Kenneth Troccoli echoed that sentiment, telling the court El-Khalifi's "motivation was simply to do what he thought God called him to do."
El-Khalifi hoped to detonate a suicide bomb inside the U.S. Capitol in February and was willing to shoot guards who might block his entry, court records show. Law enforcement officials were drawn to him after an informant reported in August 2010 that El-Khalifi had responded to a Facebook posting from Afghanistan inviting people to join the mujahideen.
He was motivated by a belief that the war on terrorism was a war on Muslims. He scouted several potential targets before settling on the Capitol. Undercover agents made sure none of El-Khalifi's weapons were operable.
According to a statement of facts signed as part of his guilty plea, El-Khalifi admitted he took an AK-47 and bomb vest from a van parked in a Capitol Hill garage. He was arrested as he "walked alone from the vehicle toward the United States Capitol, where he intended to shoot people and detonate the bomb."
Such sting operations routinely are criticized by Islamist groups as entrapment, but courts have rejected that argument. Prosecutors say El-Khalifi was determined to kill and had to be stopped.
"On his own initiative, a man living right here in Alexandria selected the target and date of his suicide attack and engaged in surveillance to ensure that his attack caused maximum casualties," U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said in a statement.
"We cannot wait until there are real, dead victims to enforce our laws," Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg added in court Friday. El-Khalifi stopped to pray at a mosque before he went Capitol Hill. He listened to a recording of the Quran during the drive into Washington.
"The threat posed to the United States and its citizens by those willing to carry out suicide bombings on United States soil cannot be overstated," prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo. "The United States justice system has limited opportunities to address this threat, and the message sent by this Court's sentence, therefore, must be crystal clear; those who are willing to commit violent terrorist attacks on United States soil will be detected, apprehended, and sentenced to serve decades in prison."
El-Khalifi likely will be deported to Morocco when he completes his sentence.