In April 2005, police swarmed the U.S. Capitol to confront an erratic Australian man, carrying two suitcases, who they feared was a suicide bomber. After blowing up one of the bags, officers realized he was harmless. The police failed to notice two nervous young men on a nearby sidewalk filming the Capitol during the standoff. But they might have been the real threat, according to newly released documents reported by the Washington Post. The men, ultraconservative Muslims from Georgia, were making surveillance videos that could help extremists plan “some kind of terrorist attack,” as one man later acknowledged. One of their videos was sent to a notorious al-Qaeda publicist in London, authorities said.
New details about the videos — featuring such sites as the World Bank headquarters, the Pentagon and fuel tanks — emerged in pretrial hearings in Atlanta. The pair are charged with providing support to foreign terrorists and could be sentenced to 60 years in prison if convicted. They have pleaded not guilty. The case underlines the continued appeal of Washington as a terrorist target. Analysts said it also provides a glimpse of the growing threat posed by radical networks that have sprung up on the Internet. One of the men, Syed Haris Ahmed, told authorities that they got to know extremists through Web forums and chat rooms, and they uploaded their D.C. surveillance video to “Jihadi people” online.