Yonathan Melaku, a resident of Fairfax, Va., was sentenced Friday to 25 years in prison followed by 10 years of supervised release, for perpetrating five separate shootings at military installations in Northern Virginia between October and November 2010, and his attempts to vandalize veterans’ memorials at Arlington National Cemetery, according to Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Melaku was born in Ethiopia but was a U.S. citizen at the time of his arrest. Sadly, he was at the time of his arrest a Marine Corps Reserve lance corporal who carried bomb-making materials and pro-al Qaeda literature.
On Jan. 26, 2012, the 24-year-old "lone wolf terrorist" pled guilty to a three-counts that included injuring property of the United States, use of a firearm during a crime of violence, and attempted injury to veterans’ memorials on U.S. property. The defendant's defense attorney and the prosecution jointly recommended in the plea agreement a sentence of 25 years in prison, according to McBride's statement.
“Yonathan Melaku is a self-radicalized terrorist who carried out a campaign of fear that escalated until his arrest,” MacBride said in his release. “He took calculated steps to target specific military buildings, cover up his crimes, and plan even more destruction should his message not be heard. This sentence is just punishment for the danger he poses to our community.”
According to court records, Melaku carried out a series of five shootings from Oct. 17, 2010, through Nov. 2, 2010, at the the National Museum of the Marine Corps (twice), the Pentagon, a Marine Corps recruiting sub-station in Chantilly, Va., and a U.S. Coast Guard recruiting office in Woodbridge, Va., the prosecution stated.
Each shooting took place late at night or early in the morning and involved multiple 9mm rounds fired at each building.
During the second shooting at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, Melaku set up a video camera within the interior of his vehicle to record the shooting incident, the prosecution said. The video shows Melaku repeatedly firing a handgun out the passenger-side window of his personal vehicle while he narrates the incident on the video and states, among other things: “That’s my target. That’s the military building. It’s going to be attacked,” and at the conclusion of multiple shots, he repeatedly shouts, “Allahu Akbar."
Melaku attempted to flee law enforcement after being spotted on the property of Fort Myer in Arlington, Va., at approximately 1:30 a.m. on June 17, 2011, according to the report.
During the pursuit, he dropped a backpack that contained numerous spent 9 mm shell casings, four bags containing ammonium nitrate, and a spiral notebook with numerous Arabic statements referencing the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, “The Path to Jihad,” as well as a list of several other individuals associated with foreign terrorist organizations.
At the time of his apprehension, Melaku was attempting to enter the area of Arlington National Cemetery containing graves of deceased Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, intending to desecrate and injure the grave markers by spray-painting the markers with Arabic statements and by leaving the ammonium nitrate he was carrying at the sites of the grave markers, the prosecution said.
On June 17, 2011, during a search of his residence, FBI agents found Melaku had stored within the bedroom closet of his residence a typed list titled “Timer” that included nine items that Melaku admitted are consistent with what would be required to construct the firing mechanism for an IED (improvised explosive device).
During interrogations by law enforcement after his arrest, Melaku said he targeted military-associated buildings to send a message that the U.S. should not be involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and to intimidate those who supported U.S. involvement. He planned to desecrate nearly 2,400 grave markers at Arlington National Cemetery and leave ammonium nitrate at the scene to instill fear in the public. The press statement said that Melaku admitted he planned further crimes, including blowing up a military fuel truck, if his message was not heard.