A Moroccan national living in Bridgeport, Conn. was arrested Monday after allegedly plotting to bomb a university and federal building using a remote-controlled toy airplane.
A complaint charges El Mehdi Semlali Fathi with making a series of false statements in an asylum claim. In it, however, an FBI agent details his effort to target the public buildings.
In recorded conversations, Fathi “claimed that he has been ‘studying’ the bomb attack operation for months.” He added that “everything available [to make the bomb] was available in Southern California on the border.”
Fathi claimed that he made a chemical bomb while attending high school in Morocco, adding “there are three things that scare people in the United States: causing harm to schools, the economy, and their sense of security.”
Fathi was ordered deported from the U.S. in 2009 after his student visa expired. He later won asylum in after claiming he faced persecution if sent back to Morocco.
The story was a lie, the affidavit alleges. His claims that he was “repeatedly arrested by the Moroccan government and assaulted by government officials” were fabricated. In a recording, Fathi said a fellow inmate suggested the asylum ploy while he was in custody. He laughed about it, saying he could not believe it worked.
Fathi was admitted to Virginia International University in Fairfax in January 2008. His student visa was “after he failed all of his classes during the Fall 2008 semester and he failed to register for classes for the Spring 2009 semester,” the affidavit said.
In December 2010, Fathi was arrested on charges of trespassing in Virginia. The charges were subsequently dismissed. He was also arrested and imprisoned for theft in California.
The affidavit does not go into detail about his motivation for plotting the attacks.
The use of remote-controlled explosives to launch attacks is not new. In 2007, a University of South Florida student arrested on terrorism-related charges was found to have produced a video that he uploaded online showing how to use a remote-controlled car as a detonation device. In a commentary accompanying the video, the graduate student said, the device would help “to save one who wants to be a martyr for another battle.”
In a 2011 case, a Massachusetts man sought to use remote-controlled planes to bomb the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol.