Antonio Martinez (aka, Muhammed Hussain) Arrested in Plot to Blow Up (VBIED) Military Recruitment Center Near Baltimore (Update: Armed Forces Career Center in Catonsville, Md)
A 21-year-old Baltimore man has been arrested for attempting to blow up a military recruitment center in Catonsville with a fake bomb supplied by federal agents.
Federal authorities say Antonio Martinez, also known as Muhammad Hussain, attempted to detonate what he believed to be a vehicle bomb this morning at the Armed Forces Career Center in the 5400 block of Baltimore National Pike.
Court records paint Martinez as obsessed with Jihad and intent on punishing the military. He praised Nidal Hassan, the U.S. Army major who killed 13 people at Fort Hood, and discussed obtaining weapons and shooting up military installations, records show.
In November, he was observed on a public computer in Woodlawn viewing videos of Osama bin Laden and an Iraqi martyrdom. He discussed in public postings on his Facebook page how the "reign of oppression is about 2 cease."
It was through the social networking site that he communicated at times with an FBI informant, saying he wanted to go to Pakistan or Afghanistan and join the ranks of the "mujahideen."
He told the confidential source that if the military continued to kill Muslims, "they would need to expand their operation by killing U.S. Army personnel where they live," records show. They discussed attacking military installations and the possibility of using gas or propane tanks.
The White House said in a statement that President Obama had been informed of the operation prior to the arrest and that the investigation "underscores the necessity of remaining vigilant against terrorism here and abroad and why we have been focusing on addressing the challenge posed by domestic radicalization."
At an afternoon court hearing, Martinez wore an untucked white t-shirt with jeans. He had wild curly hair and his face was unshaven, and he looked down as U.S. Magistrate Judge James K. Bredar read the charges.
Martinez said he worked construction and was married. According to his Facebook page, he attended Laurel High School and may have graduated in 2005.
He is charged with attempted murder of federal employees and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. property. He faces life in prison.
The judge issued a temporary order of detention for Martinez and set a hearing for Monday afternoon.
Deputy Federal Public Defender Joseph Balter was appointed to handle his case.
"It's very, very early," Balter said after the hearing. "We really hope that nobody jumps to any judgments" about his guilt. Balter declined to comment further.
Though he gave a Northwest Baltimore address in court, Martinez lived with his mother and several siblings in a newly-built Woodlawn apartment complex. A sign advertises the complex of tidy tan apartments with white trim as "Woodlawn's best kept secret."
A young boy opened the door at the family's apartment. A woman with hair in a fashionable short cut and a lip ring identified herself as Martinez's sister.
"I don't want to talk about my brother," she said. "When my mother gets home, you can talk to her."
An FBI informant struck up a conversation with Martinez after seeing his postings on Facebook, according to court records, and eventually introduced him to an undercover agent.
By late October, according to court records, Martinez was indicating that he was focused on attacking the military recruiting center on Route 40. Martinez said he knew of someone who could provide weapons and detailed how he could enter the facility from the roof and then "shoot everybody in the place."
Burning the building, he said, would "instill fear" and send a message that "whoever joins the military, they will be killed."
Court records show Martinez attempted to recruit multiple individuals, all who declined to participate. According to a law enforcement source, one of the friends "thought he was kidding or nuts and told him to stop talking about jihad."
Records show one of the men he tried to recuirt warned him that what he was proposing was "wrong ideologically, would cause harm to Muslims" and would probably result in him getting caught.
U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said no one was in danger because the FBI was monitoring Martinez.
But Richard A. McFeely, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Baltimore field office, said Martinez posed a "very real" threat.
"The exceptional work of the Joint Terrorism Task Force showed us Martinez was absolutely committed to carrying out an attack which would have cost lives," McFeely said.
There was no evidence that the plot was tied to recent shootings at military recruiting centers in the Washington D.C. area, officials said.
The case appeared similar to a recent bomb plot in Portland, Ore. The day after Thanksgiving, a Somali-born teenager was arrested there after using a cell phone to try to detonate what he thought were explosives in a van, authorities said. He thought he was going to bomb a crowded downtown Christmas tree-lighting ceremony.
Like the Baltimore County case, it turned out to be a dummy bomb plot put together by FBI agents. Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, was arrested after authorities said he planned the details of the plot, including where to park the van filled with explosives to hurt the most people. Mohamud allegedly believed he was receiving help from a larger ring of jihadists as he communicated with undercover agents.
Court records show Martinez saw reports of the Oregon case and became agitated, fearing that he was being set up. He and the confidential source had a meeting on Nov. 27, where he advised that he still wanted to go forward. The source told him to sleep on it and call him the next day.
On Nov. 28, Martinez phoned the source and said: "I'm just ready to move forward."
Earlier, they had discussed how a bomb could be constructed so it would blast into the recruiting station. Martinez pointed out that others who had attempted explosions and tried to flee had been caught boarding planes, and the confidential source offered that they could travel into Canada before proceeding into Europe and eventually Afghanistan.
Martinez also said that he wanted to learn how to build a bomb so he could teach the "next 'young brother' who decided to fight," records show.
His mother disapproved of his life choices, according to records. "She wants me to be like everybody else, being in school, working," he told the informant. "Glad I am not like everyone else my age – going out having fun, be in college, all that stuff. That's not me. … That [sic] not what Allah has in mind for me."
At the shopping center where Martinez was arrested this morning, Will Eckenrode, manager of Car Quest Auto Parts, said he heard a loud bang, then saw FBI agents in technical gear in the parking lot this morning between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.
"It's scary," he said. "This is close to home."
While there are always people coming in and out of the recruiting center, Eckenrode said it's generally a quiet area.
The recruiting center is in a strip mall that also houses a nail salon and beauty supply store.
In the window of the recruiting office, a sign listed its hours as 9 a.m. to 18:00 hours. However, the center appeared to not have been open at all Wednesday.
U.S. authorities have disrupted or uncovered at least 15 homegrown terrorist conspiracies over the last two years, often by penetrating the scheme at an early stage and carefully orchestrating the results.
In addition to the Oregon case, some of the more recent incidents include the Sept. 19 arrest Sami Samir Hassoun, who planted a backpack containing fake explosives in a sports bar near Wrigley Field in Chicago. A Lebanese citizen living in the city, Hassoun got the faux bomb from undercover FBI agents who befriended him after being tipped off to his intentions a year earlier.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Grant said Hassoun "was unhappy with the way the city was running. He was also unhappy with things that were happening in other parts of the world."
The attempted attack on a recruiting station in Catonsville also stirred memories of a very different plot in 1968 that attracted national attention.
On May 17, 1968, the Catonsville office of the Selective Service — the draft board — was raided by a group of nine anti-war protesters led by the Rev. Daniel Berrigan and his brother Philip, a Josephite priest.
Shouting, "You're murderers!," the Berrigans and their band scuffled with board employees, causing minor injuries to one. They managed to gather up and burn a pile of several hundred draft records, mostly those of men whom Selective Service officials later said were 4-F — deferred from military service for medical reasons.
"There was no special significance to Catonsville," said Dean Pappas, a Baltimore physics teacher who helped plan the draft office raid and spread the word after it happened. "It was just a target of opportunity."
The "Catonsville 9," as the conspirators were called, were arrested, tried in federal court and sentenced to a collective total of 18 years in prison and $22,000 in fines. Five of the nine have since died. Baltimore Sun