WASHINGTON — A Maryland man inspired by the Islamic State group plotted to ram a stolen U-Haul truck into as many pedestrians as possible at a popular convention and tourist destination just outside the nation’s capital, federal prosecutors said Monday.
The allegation was made in a court filing as prosecutors in Maryland urged a judge to keep the defendant, 28-year-old Rondell Henry, detained on a charge of driving a stolen vehicle across state lines. The police arrested him on March 28 after officers who discovered the stolen truck saw him leap over a security fence.
Henry then made incriminating statements that show steps he took to maximize damage, prosecutors say.
“I was just going to keep driving and driving and driving. I wasn’t going to stop,” the document quotes Henry as telling law enforcement authorities who questioned him. He said he wanted to create “panic and chaos” similar to a deadly truck attack that killed scores of people in Nice, France, in 2016, prosecutors say.
After his arrest by local law enforcement, Henry was taken for a psychiatric evaluation and was then taken into FBI custody once that was done, said a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss the investigation by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
A detention hearing was scheduled for Tuesday in Greenbelt, Maryland. It was not clear if prosecutors would file additional charges accusing him of planning an attack. The charge of interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle, 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.
A defense lawyer for Henry declined to comment.
The government’s six-page detention motion describes Henry as harboring hatred for “disbelievers” and looking to emulate Islamic State militants he saw on beheading videos and fighting overseas. On his phone, which prosecutors say he discarded on a highway in an apparent attempt to conceal evidence, authorities found images of the ISIS flag, armed ISIS fighters and the man who carried out the massacre in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub three years ago.
The document alleges that Henry, a computer engineer, walked off his job in the middle of the day on March 26 and stole a U-Haul van from the parking garage of a mall in Virginia after determining that his four-door sedan “would not cause the catastrophic damage that he desired.”
He first considered an attack at Dulles International Airport, trying unsuccessfully over two hours to breach the security perimeter by slipping in through a checkpoint or accessing a restricted area, prosecutors said.
From there, he headed to National Harbor — a waterfront complex of restaurants, retail and hotels in Maryland.
“But so early in the morning on a weekday,” prosecutors wrote, “the defendant did not find the sizable crowd upon which he desired to inflict his radical conduct.”
Henry broke into a boat, hiding there overnight, and was arrested on the morning of March 28 when he leaped over the security fence from the boat deck, according to the detention motion.
Acquaintances of Henry expressed surprise at the allegations.
Osman Alaalla, 61, came to pray Monday evening at a 5 p.m. service at the Islamic Society of Germantown. He said Henry typically led that service. Alaalla described Henry as a quiet, nice man but said he didn’t know anything about his personal life. He said he would come to pray and leave.
“He’s very peaceful,” he said.