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The FBI Says It Stopped a 20-Year-Old's Terrorist Plot to Attack the US Capitol

The homegrown terrorist plot was foiled just a week after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

by Allie Conti
16 January 2015, 6:58am

Photo courtesy Butler County Sheriff's Office

Six months ago, Christopher Lee Cornell was just a seasonally employed momma's boy who didn't even have a driver's license. Looking for direction, the 20-year-old started growing a beard and praying five times a day at an Ohio mosque. When he was arrested Wednesday, his long, flowing beard couldn't be contained in his mugshot, and the FBI is suggesting he hoped to align himself with a terrorist organization an ocean away.

According to federal court documents, Cornell began referring to himself as Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah last summer. FBI Special Agent T. A. Staderman, who was deposed for the complaint against Cornell, alleges that he used Twitter to voice support for the Islamic State and promote violent jihad. In the fall, a confidential source flipped on Cornell and gave information to the Feds to strike a deal in an unrelated case.

"I believe that we should just wage jihad on our own orders and plan attacks and everything," Cornell allegedly told the source this past August. "We already got a thumbs up from the Brothers over there and Anwar al Awlaki before his martyrdom and many others."

The source also told Staderman that he met up with Cornell last October. The two discussed their plan further, and Cornell said he wanted to conduct an attack by December. He also allegedly showed jihadist videos and bomb-making instructions to the informant.

The second time they met, Cornell got more specific and revealed that he wanted to attack the Capitol building in Washington, DC. Members of Congress were described as enemies. The pair went over some research and discussed places that would sell them rifles, according to the Feds.

Agents knew Cornell was going to purchase guns, so they asked the owner of the Point Blank Gun Store and Range for help about a week in advance. Then, ten minutes before Cornell arrived at the store, the FBI called up the store owner again to give him a heads up. The owner made Cornell go through a background check before selling him two semiautomatic rifles and 600 rounds of ammo.

As soon as he bought the guns, the agents tackled Cornell and brought him into custody. The official charges are attempting to kill a US government officer and possession of a firearm in furtherance of an attempted crime of violence. He'll appear in federal court on Friday and is currently in Ohio's Butler County jail.

John Cornell, the suspect's father, gave an interview with local Cincinnati TV station WLWT that painted him as a lost kid who was looking for direction and belonging. He's also accused the FBI of setting his son up. "He's a mommy's boy," Cornell said. "He hangs around with his mom. His best friend's his kitty cat. He was really vulnerable."

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