(WSJ) – A Maryland man was arrested for allegedly planning to use a stolen rental truck to mow down pedestrians at a popular Washington-area dining and shopping destination in a plot inspired by the terrorist group Islamic State, authorities said.
Rondell Henry, a 28-year-old computer engineer, was arrested last week and charged with interstate transportation of stolen vehicle, according to court documents filed Monday. Other charges are likely to be added in the coming weeks.
The government believes him to be a convert to Islam, according to a department spokeswoman. He is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Trinidad and Tobago.
Prosecutors said Mr. Henry harbored hatred for non-Muslims and stole a U-Haul truck as part of a plot to kill “disbelievers”—believing that his own four-door sedan wasn’t large enough to do enough damage.
After allegedly stealing the vehicle, Mr. Henry first considered an attack at Dulles International Airport near Washington in Virginia, authorities said, before settling on a plan to use a vehicle to attack pedestrians at National Harbor, a waterfront development near Washington known for restaurants, stores and a casino.
“I was just going to keep driving and driving and driving. I wasn’t going to stop,” Mr. Henry was quoted as saying in court documents.
An attorney for Mr. Henry declined to comment. The government is seeking to have him detained pending trial, citing safety concerns and flight risk.
Mr. Henry is alleged to have walked off his job in Germantown, Md., in the middle of the day on March 26, and then stole the U-Haul. The next day, prosecutors said he scouted several possible locations for an attack in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs around Washington, before settling on National Harbor.
With the crowds too thin at National Harbor, the court documents alleged he parked the U-Haul, broke into a boat and hid there overnight. Police arrested him after spotting the stolen U-Haul and putting it under surveillance, according to prosecutors.
Mr. Henry is scheduled to make an appearance at a detention hearing at a federal courthouse in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.
The alleged foiled attack on National Harbor is reminiscent of another Islamic State-inspired attack in Nice, France, in 2016, where a Tunisian man drove a 19-ton truck through a crowd, killing 86 people and wounding 458 others.
According to court documents, Mr. Henry cited the Nice attack in his plan, saying that he wanted to create “panic and chaos” in the crowds at National Harbor, the “same as what happened in France.”
With Islamic State’s power in Syria and Iraq on the wane, U.S. officials have said that one of their top concerns is homegrown violent extremism.
FBI director Chris Wray said in testimony before Congress last week that U.S.-based radicals inspired, but not directed by, foreign terrorist groups were the “greatest terrorism threat to the homeland.”
“These individuals are global jihad-inspired individuals who are in the U.S., have been radicalized primarily in the U.S.,” Mr. Wray said. “We, along with our law enforcement partners, face significant challenges” in identifying and disrupting such plots, Mr. Wray said.