The FBI arrested 21-year-old Hasher Jallal Taheb in the metropolitan Atlanta area on Wednesday and charged him with planning a jihad attack on the White House.
Taheb reportedly planned to blast a hole in the side of the White House with an anti-tank missile, then carry out a shooting spree on those within. According to the FBI, he was planning to launch the attack on January 17, the day after agents decided to take him into custody.
A joint task force reported had Taheb under investigation since last March, when a tip from a concerned “community member” said the Cumming, Georgia resident “had become radicalized, changed his name, and made plans to travel abroad.”
An FBI informant contacted Taheb in September shortly after the suspect put his vehicle up for sale. Posing as a potential buyer, the informant befriended Taheb and eventually heard him admit he was selling the vehicle to raise money for a jihad attack, according to the charges against him. His original idea was allegedly to make a “hijra” journey to the Islamic State, but he had misplaced his passport and was having difficulty obtaining a replacement, so he decided to attack the United States on his own.
The informant claims Taleb said that “jihad was the best deed in Islam and the peak of Islam,” confidently asserting “it was not complicated at all to do jihad today,” as the FBI affidavit puts it. Later he allegedly tried recruiting the informant and an undercover FBI agent to form a “jamaat” or terrorist cell, telling them “jihad was an obligation” and they should all martyr themselves in an attack.
Once he thought his new friends were on board with his scheme, the affidavit narrates, Taheb produced a hand-drawn map of the ground floor of the White House West Wing and gave the undercover agent a shopping list of the weapons needed for the attack – black-market purchases they would finance by selling their cars.
The FBI agent and Taheb allegedly exchanged jaunty text messages about “grocery shopping” and “game day planning” as the target list expanded to include “the Washington Monument, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, and a specific synagogue,” and the required arsenal grew to “semi-automatic weapons, improvised explosive devices, an AT-4, and hand grenades.” They made a point of describing the guns and bombs as food items and pretending they were preparing for a feast, although Taheb pushed the outer limits of message discipline by describing the explosives as “flaming potatoes” at one point.
The AT-4 was the trickiest item on Taheb’s jihad shopping list: a shoulder-launched anti-tank rocket, with which he claimd to informants that he planned to breach the White House walls. The FBI agent claims he was able to string Taheb along for quite a while given the obvious difficulty of purchasing such a weapon, but he gave assurances it could be done.
Taheb also reportedly sketched out plans for a martyrdom video that would include “clips of oppressed Muslims” and burning American and Israeli flags. He stands accused of uploading a 40-page manifesto about “defensive jihad” to Google Docs, creating an online channel for his martyrdom video, and setting up an encrypted chat group for the conspirators to use. He allegedly used this social media platform to regale his new friends with videotaped harangues by Anwar al-Awlaki, the deceased al-Qaeda guru who is essentially the patron saint of “lone wolf” jihadis.
Prodded by the undercover FBI agent at the end of December to confirm his plan was still active, Taheb is said to have replied via encrypted chat: “Please give about 2 weeks inshallah. Then after we can go on our trip inshallah. May Allah allow us, support us, provide for us, and protect us.” The FBI claims he later set a date of January 17 for the attack.
The FBI affidavit paints Taheb as a would-be jihad martyr with ambitions far beyond his abilities, beginning with a woeful misunderstanding of how White House security would respond to his attack and how well he would fare against them in a gun battle, given that he never actually fired a gun before. The affidavit makes several references to Taheb’s hand-drawn White House maps, which included the locations of Secret Service and Homeland Security offices, without commenting on the accuracy of the map.
Taheb’s murderous enthusiasm was genuine, the affidavit claims, as he hoped to inflict as many casualties as possible with bullets and backpack bombs. The FBI arrested him after he took possession of the weapons supposedly purchased at his request, including the anti-tank rocket, not realizing they had been rendered inert by FBI technicians.
The FBI said it currently appears Taheb was acting alone, other than the FBI informant and undercover agent he regarded as co-conspirators.
Forsyth County News wrote that “law enforcement, reportedly including representatives from the FBI, ICE and the U.S. Secret Service” spent Wednesday night searching the home where Taheb is said to live with his mother. The affidavit mentioned Taheb’s concern that his family would grow suspicious about his intentions after he sold his car.
“It is important to point out that this investigation and arrest were the direct result of a tip from the community, another example of how important it is to contact law enforcement if you see or hear something suspicious,” noted Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge for the FBI in Atlanta.
The Justice Department stated Taheb has been charged with “attempting to damage by means of an explosive any building owned, possessed, or leased by the United States.”