Federal authorities arrested a Cincinnati man Wednesday in connection with an alleged ISIL-inspired plot to attack the U.S. Capitol.
Christopher Lee Cornell, 20, who used the alias Raheel Mahrus Ubayda, is accused of revealing the plan to an FBI informant during meetings in Cincinnati where the suspect “discussed his support of ISIL (Islamic State) and waging jihad,” according to court documents.
“Christopher Cornell indicated that he considered the members of Congress as enemies and that he intended to conduct an attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington,” FBI Special Agent T.A. Staderman said in the seven-page complaint supporting charges of attempting to kill a U.S. government officer and possession of a firearm.
Federal authorities said the public was never in any danger because investigators were closely monitoring the activities of the suspect during the inquiry.
Tom Willingham, president and CEO of Point Blank Range & Gun Shop in Cincinnati, said he was approached by FBI agents and asked him to help them arrest someone they suspected of wanting to commit a terrorist act on U.S. soil.
Willingham’s employees sold two semi-automatic rifles at about 11 a.m. Wednesday to Cornell. After gun store employees ran his name through the national background check system – “not anyone can come in and buy a gun and walk out,” Willingham said – Cornell was sold what Willingham called “sporting rifles.” In addition to the M-15 rifles, Cornell bought 600 rounds of ammunition.
When Cornell left the store and walked to the parking lot. he was arrested by the FBI Cincinnati Joint Terrorism Task Force.
The U.S. arrest comes during a highly charged period, as French investigators are conducting a search for possible ISIL and al-Qaeda links to last week’s deadly attack on the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo.
Al-Qaeda’s franchise in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed credit for the French attack in which the suspects claimed to be acting on behalf of the al-Qaeda group in Yemen. A third suspect claimed allegiance to the Islamic State. The three were killed by French police Friday following tense hostage standoffs.
The French attacks have fanned anxieties across the globe, including in the U.S., where the FBI Wednesday conducted a national video conference with state and local law enforcement partners to discuss the possible U.S. implications of the assault.
Among the concerns addressed was whether the Paris attack may mark a significant change in strategy by the al-Qaeda franchise, which had been focused previously on large-scale plots targeting commercial jets and iconic western landmarks.
The video session, one of the largest such briefings conducted by the FBI, lasted just less than an hour. It was directed by FBI Director James Comey, along with top DHS officials and Washington, D.C., police Chief Cathy Lanier, who discussed the ongoing threat posed by U.S. citizens returning from the conflict in Syria and those inspired by the radical rhetoric spewed by al-Qaeda.
In the Cincinnati case, which ironically led to the arrest during the conference, Cornell allegedly told the government informant in November that he wanted to travel with the informant to Washington as part of “reconnaissance” mission to observe the security at government buildings, including the Capitol, before executing the plot.
The operation, according to court documents, involved the detonation of pipe bombs and the use of firearms to “kill employees and officials in the U.S. Capitol.”
While preparing to travel to Washington this week, Cornell was arrested Wednesday following the purchase of two M-15 semi-automatic rifles and 600 rounds of ammunition.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said the Ohio case “should set off alarm bells” in wake of the Paris attacks.
“These terrorists are intent on attacking our country and are attempting to convince Americans at home to radicalize, embrace their perverse world view and commit acts of violence,” McCaul said.
Perry reports for the Cincinnati Enquirer