Man Pleads Guilty to Firing Bullets at Pentagon

by ARLnow.com January 26, 2012 at 3:06 pm 3,631 13 Comments

The man accused of firing bullets at the Pentagon and other military installations in Northern Virginia pleaded guilty in federal court today.

Yonathan Melaku, 23, of Alexandria, pleaded guilty to three counts of: damaging government property, using a firearm during a crime, and attempted injury to veterans’ memorials. Prosecutors and defense attorneys have jointly asked for a 25-year sentence.

As part of the plea, Melaku admitted that on or around the early morning of Oct. 19, 2010 he fired multiple 9mm rounds at the Pentagon building. He also admitted to firing bullets at the National Museum of the Marine Corps (twice), a Marine Corps recruiting sub-station in Chantilly, and a U.S. Coast Guard recruiting office in Woodbridge. The shootings took place between Oct. 17, 2010 and Nov. 2, 2010.

Prosecutors say terrorism was the motive of the shootings. In a video, investigators say Melaku can be seen firing a handgun out of the passenger-side window of his car, then repeatedly shouting “Allahu Akbar.”

“Yonathan Melaku pled guilty to carrying out a calculated, destructive campaign to instill terror throughout our community,” U.S. Attorney MacBride said in a statement. “The video he filmed during one drive-by shooting is a chilling portrayal of his intent and the escalating danger he posed. Thanks to the FBI and their law enforcement partners, we were able to apprehend Mr. Melaku, develop the evidence that linked him to the shootings, and secure this conviction today.”

Melaku was arrested on June 17, 2011 after what’s being described as an unsuccessful attempt to vandalize the graves of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans at Arlington National Cemetery. At about 1:30 a.m., police spotted Melaku on the property of Ft. Myer. He attempted to flee, and dropped a backpack in the process.

Prosecutors say the backpack contained “numerous spent 9mm shell casings; four bags containing ammonium nitrate, and a spiral notebook with numerous Arabic statements referencing the Taliban, al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, ‘The Path to Jihad,’ as well as a list of several other individuals associated with foreign terrorist organizations.”

After he was taken into custody, Melaku admitted that he was trying to sneak into Arlington National Cemetery “to desecrate and injure the grave markers by spray-painting the markers with Arabic statements and by leaving the ammonium nitrate he was carrying at the sites of the grave markers.”

Later, prosecutors say, a list of parts for a bomb detonator was discovered in Melaku’s Alexandria home.

The FBI-led investigation received assistance from Arlington County Police, Virginia State Police, the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, U.S. Park Police and other federal and local law enforcement agencies.

  • mrethiopian

    This moron could have easily shot and killed individuals around those buildings, if his true intent was “terrorism” I think 25 years is NOT enough, I would think doubling that number would send a message to other would-be terrorists that America will not stand for this behavior.

    If he is not a US citizen, he needs to be sent to Guantánamo for a vacation.

    • Josh S


      Scary wow.

    • drax

      See, this guy is why we have a Bill of Rights.

      • speonjosh

        Well, what’s really disturbing is that the viewpoint is so terribly un-American, at the most fundamental level. I wonder if the melting pot still works……

  • Teyo

    Sadly for him, his attempt to flea was swatted down.

  • Mickey

    You need to check the spelling, “he attempted to flea” I assume means, “attempted to flee”? Ha, I have never made a spelling mistake!

  • Jus’ saying

    CNN reports his defense is not considering mental illness as a defense but rather that he has “anger management issues”. Well then how about a little timeout? Like life in solitary confinement at Red Onion Super Max.?

  • Gene Pool

    What a complete moron this guy is. Yeah, video yourself in the act (wearing a mask) and then take the mask off. Hello?? McFly?? His parents were quoted as saying the want him to receive treatment for anger management and PTSD. PTSD?? From what?? I heard he NEVER deployed!!! Gimme a break. Let this toad ROT in prison.

  • Josh S

    Why are people so ready to accept the police state?

    If anything, I’m wondering how the state could justify 25 years for these crimes. He shot some bullets at some buildings. No one was hurt. He had some ideas in his head at the time that he shot. So what? How does this add up to 25 years?
    Pre 9-11, this guy would have got 5, maybe 10 years because the buildings he shot at are federal.

    • AshtonHeights

      I read somewhere he could have received life total. 25 years was the agreement his own attorney fought for.

      I personally think any gun toting maniac shooting out of his car with the bullets going god knows where should get a pretty harsh sentence. I am OK with 25 years, but more would not have bothered me either.

    • Patrick


      Scary Wow!!

    • Michael H.

      Firing guns in public spaces is extremely dangerous. He shouldn’t get credit because he didn’t hit anyone. I ride my bike along the bike trail near the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial. I don’t know where this guy was shooting from, but I can imagine that if I had been riding on the trail that night, I could have been hit.

      No way should this guy only get 5 years. He deserved a long sentence.

      • speonjosh

        Let’s say he was firing at an abandoned building – a closed Borders, let’s say.

        What is his sentence then?

        First of all, it’s not even news, so we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

        Was he aiming at people? Is it attempted murder? The article above sites three crimes. I don’t see how they add up to 25 years let alone life.

        There is just so much I don’t know about this case, it’s hard know what to think. But my gut reaction is still that 25 years seems like a long time and that I think that there is a bit of an over-reaction based on the target, overblown terrorism fears, etc.

        Of course he should “get credit” for not hitting anyone. Not hitting someone is quite different than hitting someone. Do you get into more trouble when you are playing ball inside the house when the lamp breaks or when it doesn’t break?


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