US Islamic militant sought to attack White House, says FBI

Snow gathers on a fence surrounding the White House in Washington, DC.
Snow gathers on a fence surrounding the White House in Washington, DC.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Authorities in the US state of Georgia have arrested a 21-year-old man who sought to buy explosives and an anti-tank rocket for a "jihad" suicide attack on the White House planned for Thursday (Jan 17).

Byung Pak, the US attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, announced the arrest of Hasher Taheb of Cumming, Georgia late on Wednesday after a months-long FBI investigation sparked by a tip from the local community "that Taheb had become radicalised."

According to the indictment, Taheb tried to recruit an informant and an undercover FBI agent into a plan to attack the White House and other targets in Washington, including the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and an unnamed synagogue.

Wanting to fulfil his "duty" to carry out an attack and expecting to become a "martyr," Taheb originally hoped to travel to Islamic State-held territory in the Middle East, he told the FBI source, according to the indictment.

But because he had lost his passport, Taheb told the informant it would be better to launch attacks inside the United States.

On Dec 7, 2018, he met the undercover agent and revealed a hand-drawn diagram of the White House West Wing, where the president's office is located.

In the subsequent weeks, Taheb detailed what weapons he wanted to acquire for the plot, and assigned the FBI agent to obtain them: semi-automatic weapons, grenades and an AT-4 shoulder-mounted anti-tank weapon.

His plan was for the trio to jointly launch the attack on what he referred to as "game day," eventually pinpointed as Jan 17.

"Specifically, he described his plan to use the AT-4 to blow a hole in the White House so that the group could enter," the indictment said.

Taheb advised the source "that jihad was the best deed in Islam and the peak of Islam," the indictment said.

On Wednesday, the three met in the parking lot of a store in Buford, Georgia where the FBI agent was to hand over the explosives and weapons, all of which had been rendered inert.

When Taheb took delivery of the weapons, he was arrested.

Officials and the indictment provided no background on Taheb or whether he had made any contact with Islamic militant groups abroad.

But Pak said no targets in Washington or Georgia were ever truly threatened by the plot.

In a separate case, on Thursday a 49-year-old man, Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts or Abdur Raheem Rafeeq, was arrested in a Cleveland, Ohio suburb and charged with planning a terror attack on the city on July 4, the US Independence Day holiday.

Undercover FBI agents communicated with Pitts for months on the plot before arresting him.

"Pitts, a US citizen living in Ohio, pledged his allegiance to Al-Qaeda," a Justice Department statement said.