Unbeknownst to Amine el-Khalifi, the explosive vest and the submachine gun he reportedly intended to use were fakes, supplied to him during a sting operation, and which police said never posed any danger.
The 29-year-old was arrested in the lower level of an underground car park in an alleyway next to the Department of Labour, only a few hundred metres from the Capitol, by agents posing as al-Qaeda operatives.
A car park worker told the Daily Telegraph that undercover agents arrived early in the morning and cleared out staff and car owners before waiting in ambush in their own vehicles.
“They came in without any sirens or anything. They knew he was coming and were expecting him. They were staked out in their cars and let him drive in before they grabbed him.”
Khalifi had reportedly been under surveillance for months and was said to be mulling a range of targets including an unnamed military base, synagogues and a local restaurant popular with American generals, before settling on the Capitol last month.
Within hours of his arrest, he appeared in a federal court in neighbouring Virginia where he was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against US government property.
Few details were available last night but authorities said that he entered the country legally as a 16-year-old in 1999 but stayed long after his visa expired.
According to court documents, he came to the attention of the FBI in January last year and was introduced to an agent codenamed ‘Yusuf’, with whom confided.
Khalifi said that he wanted to use a gun during the attack because it would allow him to “kill people face-to-face”, according to the agent’s affidavit.
The case was one of a number in the US in the last year where alleged ‘lone wolf’ operatives were arrested after meetings with agents posing as terrorists.