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.