Alexandria Man Charged In Military Building Shootings
Yonathan Melaku, 22, faces federal charges in connection with five separate shootings at military installations in Northern Virginia between October and November 2010.
Federal prosecutors today announced the arrest of Marine reservist Yonathan Melaku in connection with five separate shootings at military buildings in Northern Virginia between October and November 2010.
Law enforcement officials say Melaku, 22, of Alexandria, possessed explosive-making materials that are similar to those used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, as well as writings about terrorist organizations such as the Taliban.
He is charged with two counts of destruction of property and two counts of using, carrying and shooting a gun in the commission of a violent crime. He faces at least 10 years in prison.
One of the shootings, which never injured anyone, was on either Nov. 1 at night or Nov. 2 early in the morning at the U.S. Coast Guard recruiting office in Woodbridge. According to the affidavit, Melaku caused $1,800 in damage to that building. The front door frame and the lock were damaged. Police found evidence of one shot fired at the building. This was the last building that was shot at during the spree, the affidavit states.
The first shooting was reported on Oct. 17, 2010, at the U.S. Marine Corps Heritage Museum in Triangle. Prince William County police reported then that 10 rounds from a 9mm handgun were fired at the building between 12:30-7:30 a.m. from about two football fields away. The direction of the bullets was from Interstate 95. Bullet holes were found in windows and throughout the building.
Two days later on Oct. 19, the Pentagon Force Protection Agency reported at 4:57 a.m. that shots were heard near the Pentagon South parking lot and A&E Drive in Arlington County, facing Interstate 395. Police found three marks consistent with bullet damage. The repairs cost $15,144.
At 8 a.m. Oct. 26, bullet damage was discovered at the Marine's recruiting substation in Chantilly. The building was under renovation at the time, but police found bullet fragments at the scene.
Three days later on Oct. 29, someone discovered several more bullet holes at the National Museum in Triangle. More than $94,000 was spent fixing the damage from both shootings, the affidavit states.
The affidavit states that the bullets and fragments recovered from all five shootings are from the same firearm.
Police took Melaku into custody at about 1:30 a.m. at Ft. Myer in Arlington. Police approached him and asked for identification, but Melaku refused to provide any, the affidavit states. Police also searched a backpack that Melaku discarded and found numerous spent 9mm shell casings and ammonium nitrate, which is used to make explosives, and numerous other innocuous items, such as black spray-paint and work gloves. Police also found a notebook that had Arabic statements written on it, such as "defeat coalition and allies and America" and other messages about the Taliban, al Quada and Osama bin Laden.
Kingstowne Patch reported on June 17 that once Melaku was in custody, the FBI searched his Alexandria home. According to affidavits released by the FBI, evidence found at Melaku's home resulted in charges connecting Melaku to the five building shootings. Police found nine items that are consistent with items used to make explosive devices. The affidavit states that all Melaku needed to set off a bomb was fuel and a detonating device.
Police also took Melaku's home computer and video recordings that the affidavit states place Melaku near the scene of what appears to be the U.S. Marine Corps Heritage Museum. The affidavit states that the video shows Melaku shooting a gun and making statements about shooting the military building before. “That’s my target. That’s the military building. It’s going to be attacked," the affidavit quotes Melaku saying in the video. After firing the gun he shouted, "Allahu Akbar!" which is often translated to mean "God is Great!"
Leesburg Patch reported on May 27 that Melaku was arrested and charged with four counts of grand larceny after rash of vehicle tamperings. He was expected to appear in court for those charges today.
Federal prosecutors are speaking about the arrest at a press conference now in Washington, D.C. The investigation was conducted by the FBI Washington Field Office’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, including the police departments of Arlington County, Fairfax County and Prince William County; the Pentagon Force Protection Agency; the Virginia State Police; the Naval Criminal Investigative Service; the Coast Guard Investigative Service; the U.S. Park Police; U.S. Marine Corps Base Quantico; and the Military District of Washington Provost Marshal Office. Assistant United States Attorneys Daniel Grooms, Neil Hammerstrom and Lynn Haaland of the National Security and International Crime Unit are prosecuting the case.