GREENBELT, Md. (AP) — A Maryland man accused of planning an Islamic State-inspired attack at a shopping and entertainment complex near Washington, D.C., intended to kill as many “disbelievers” as possible, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday before a judge ordered the man detained without bond.
But a defense attorney urged the court to be skeptical of authorities’ claims about 28-year-old Rondell Henry, a naturalized U.S. citizen who moved here from Trinidad and Tobago about 11 years ago.
Federal public defender Michael CitaraManis argued the government “is trying to fit certain facts into their narrative” that Henry intended to carry out a terrorist attack last month at the National Harbor, a popular waterfront destination just outside the nation’s capital.
The defense lawyer asked for his client to be freed on house arrest, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas DiGirolamo ordered Henry held without bond while he awaits trial. The judge agreed with prosecutors that the defendant poses a danger to the public.
A court filing by prosecutors Monday says Henry watched Islamic State propaganda videos of foreign terrorists beheading civilians and fighting overseas, admiring their actions and considering them brave. Henry told investigators he believed in an “eye for an eye” and thought inflicting pain and bloodshed was the best way to achieve a “balance,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom told the magistrate.
“He wanted bloodshed. He wanted chaos. He wanted panic,” the prosecutor added.
Henry isn’t charged with any terrorism-related offenses. Police arrested him March 28 on a charge of driving a stolen vehicle across state lines. The charge, which carries up to 10 years in prison, is likely a placeholder count, with prosecutors expected to present evidence before a grand jury and secure an indictment that could have new charges.
CitaraManis said his client is a college-educated computer engineer who has a tight-knight family, including a mother and sister who live in Maryland and a brother who lives in Florida. Family members filed a missing persons report after Henry walked away from his job during the middle of his shift March 26.
After his arrest by local law enforcement, Henry was taken for a psychiatric evaluation. He was held at a mental health facility for several days before FBI agents took him into custody, his attorney said.
Windom said Henry also notified his landlord in Germantown, Maryland, that he was breaking the lease on his apartment. Henry intended to die in an attack and had recently spent time with relatives because he thought he wouldn’t see them again, according to the prosecutor.
Henry stole a U-Haul van from the parking garage of a mall in Virginia and initially considered an attack at Dulles International Airport on March 27, trying unsuccessfully over two hours to breach the security perimeter by slipping in through a checkpoint or accessing a restricted area, prosecutors said.
Instead, he drove to the National Harbor later that morning but also found a similarly small crowd, so he parked the truck, broke into a boat and hid there overnight, according to prosecutors. Police arrested him the next morning after they found the stolen van and saw Henry jump over a security fence from the boat deck.
Questioned by investigators, Henry allegedly said he planned to carry out a truck attack similar to one that killed dozens of people in Nice, France, in July 2016.
“I was just going to keep driving and driving and driving. I wasn’t going to stop,” he said, according to Monday’s court filing.
Prosecutors say investigators recovered a phone that Henry discarded on a highway in an apparent attempt to conceal evidence, including images of the Islamic State flag, armed Islamic State fighters and the man who carried out the massacre in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub three years ago.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.