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In July 2010, the Department of Homeland Security launched a national: “If You See Something, Say Something” public awareness campaign. This program was designed to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism and violent crime, and to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper state and local enforcement authorities. Originally, this campaign was specifically for New York’s MTA and subway, but this campaign is now the motto for every situation, from airports to buses to other public areas. This campaign came in play in the early hours of June 17, 2011.
On Friday, June 17, 2011, the FBI captured 22-year-old U.S. Marine Corps reservist, Yonathan Melaku, of Alexandria, Va., after FBI observed Melaku inside Arlington National Cemetery in the early morning hours when the cemetery was closed. Authorities traced his car to a wooded area near the Pentagon. After initial search of the vehicle, there was no immediate threat found. Bomb experts searched Melaku’s backpack after authorities found a package labeled ammonium nitrate as well as spent firearm ammunition. Ammonium nitrate, a common fertilizer, can be used in explosives. Bomb experts found the items were “non-explosive and inert;” however, the items are undergoing further testing. Authorities also found a notebook containing references to al Qaeda.
In addition to his arrest, Melaku already faces pending charges in Loudoun County, Va., for a line of vehicle break-ins. Melaku is a naturalized U.S. citizen and joined the U.S. Marine Reserves in 2007 where he had risen to the rank of Lance Corporal in the Combat Engineer Support Company. He has never been deployed abroad, but has been awarded the National Defense Service Medal and the Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal.
Federal prosecutors announced June 23 that another arrest was added towards Melaku in connection with five separate shootings at military buildings in northern Virginia between October and November 2010. Law enforcement officials say that Melaku possessed explosive-making materials 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 carrying, using and shooting a gun in the commission of a violent crime.
The first shooting was reported on Oct 17, 2010, at the U.S. Marine Corps Heritage Museum in Triangle, Va. Prince William County police reported then that 10 rounds from a 9mm handgun were fired at the building in the early morning from about two football fields away. Two days later, the Pentagon Force Protection Agency reported at around 5am that shots were heard near the Pentagon South parking lot and A&E Drive in Arlington County. Police found three marks consistent with bullet damage. At 8 am on Oct 26, bullet damage was discovered at the Marine’s recruiting substation in Chantilly, Va. Though the building was under renovation at the time, police found bullet fragments. Three days later, someone discovered several more bullet holes at the National Museum in Triangle, Va. More than $94,000 was spent fixing the damage from both shootings and all bullets from the five shootings came from the same firearm.
Police found video recordings on Melaku’s home computer placing him near 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. After firing the gun he shouted, “Allahu Akbar!” which translates to “God is Great!”
As of now, he faces at least 10 years in prison