An Ohio man was arrested Wednesday on charges he plotted to attack the U.S. Capitol with guns and pipe bombs, the Federal Bureau of Investigations said. Christopher Lee Cornell, 20, has been charged with attempting to kill a federal officer, and possession of a firearm with the intent to commit a violent crime. But while Cornell bought two semi-automatic rifles and about 600 rounds of ammunition at a Cincinnati-area gun shop, the FBI told NBC News that Cornell never bought any pipe bomb parts, and that "there was never a danger to the public."
It turns out Cornell had been hatching his plot with a person who was actually a confidential FBI informant, who helped investigators monitor Cornell for six months.
Cornell, who lives near Cincinnati, made statements on social media expressing support for terrorist organizations overseas, tweeting under the name Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah. The FBI said there was no evidence Cornell was actually receiving support from any overseas group, but planned to execute an attack anyway, to show his support for the Islamic State. The criminal complaint states that Cornell said:
I believe that we should just wage jihad under our own orders and plan attacks and everything.
Cornell's father, John Cornell, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that his son was "peace-loving," but had suffered verbal abuse because of his Muslim faith. The father is skeptical of the charges against his son, the newspaper reported.
John Cornell said his son was a "mama's boy who never left the house," and the owner of the gun store where Cornell was arrested ran a criminal check through the national database, which did not turn up anything which could have prevented a gun purchase.
Cornell's arrest, and the FBI assertion that he never posed a danger to the public, bears some resemblance to a 2011 case out of Boston. The FBI said Rezwan Ferdaus planned to attack the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol using remote-controlled airplanes full of explosives.
Like Cornell, Ferdaus was making his plans with undercover FBI operatives, who he thought were terrorist organizers. And like Cornell, Ferdaus stockpiled weapons, buying grenades, machine guns, and what he believed was 24 pounds of C-4 explosive from the FBI's operatives.
Cornell is being held in the Butler County, Ohio, jail, without bail.
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