Teen Pleads Guilty to Plotting Terror Attack at Texas Mall

April 9, 2019 Updated: April 9, 2019

DALLAS—A suburban Dallas teenager has pleaded guilty to plotting an ISIS terrorist group-inspired mass shooting at a North Texas mall.

A state judge sentenced Matin Azizi-Yarand to 20 years in prison on April 8 for solicitation of capital murder and making a terroristic threat, state and federal prosecutors announced. The 18-year-old is eligible for parole after serving 10 years.

Azizi-Yarand was arrested last May for plotting to shoot civilians and police at a Frisco mall in a rampage, authorities said he was timing it to coincide with Ramadan. IS has called on its supporters to carry out attacks during the Muslim holy month.

The then-high school student had been recruiting others to participate in the shooting and planned to explain it with the release of a “Message to America,” according to prosecutors. He spent more than $1,400 buying weapons and tactical gear and had been conducting surveillance of the mall.

Azizi-Yarand believes his plea agreement is a “fair deal” and is ready to begin his prison term, his lawyer, Mitch Nolte, told The Associated Press.

Azizi-Yarand was indicted in July, but his age presented a challenge for prosecutors.

Terrorism cases are typically brought in federal court. But because Azizi-Yarand was 17 at the time of the crime and a minor under federal law, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas was limited in the charges they could bring against him.

It’s “extremely rare” for someone to be prosecuted for terrorism charges state court, U.S. Attorney Joseph Brown said Monday at a press conference.

Man Inspired by ISIS Planned Truck Attack Near Washington

WASHINGTON—A Maryland man inspired by the ISIS terrorist 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 on April 8.

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.

Children play on J. Seward Johnson’s sculpture, “The Awakening,” along the Potomac River waterfront at National Harbor on Sept. 3, 2016. Md. Federal prosecutors say a man inspired by the ISIS group stole a U-Haul truck with plans to drive it into a crowd at National Harbor, a convention and tourist destination just outside the nation’s capital. (Jose Luis Magana, File/AP Photo)

“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 ISIS 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.

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