National Harbor van attack plot suspect to remain in jail until trial
A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a Germantown man who authorities say stole a U-Haul rental van and planned to plow it into pedestrians at a D.C.-area tourist destination in an Islamic State-inspired attack will remain in jail until his trial.
Rondell Henry, 28, appeared in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt on Tuesday, his first public appearance since being arrested late last month. He was taken into custody at National Harbor, an entertainment and retail complex just on the Potomac River in Prince George’s County.
Authorities say he was plotting to commit mass killings at National Harbor with the stolen van in an attack fueled by his hatred for “disbelievers.”
“He wanted bloodshed. He wanted chaos. He wanted panic,” federal prosecutor Thomas Patrick Windom told the court Tuesday.
Mr. Henry appeared in the court on a charge of transporting a stolen vehicle across state lines.
No terrorism-related charges have been filed against him, but prosecutors said such charged could be added later.
His defense attorney, Michael CitaraManis, asked the judge to be skeptical of the government’s claims, arguing that prosecutors cherry-picked facts to fit their terrorist narrative. The prominently bearded suspect sat silently throughout the proceedings.
According to court documents, Mr. Henry stole a U-Haul van from a parking garage in Alexandria, Virginia, on March 27.
Authorities say he intended to use that truck to carry out a vehicle attack similar to on in 2016 in Nice, France, that killed 86 people and injured more than 450 others. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for that assault.
Prosecutors said that after Mr. Henry stole the truck, he drove to Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, but found the early morning crowds too sparse for a terrorist attack of the magnitude he imagined. He then turned his sights on National Harbor, prosecutors said.
Arriving about 10 a.m., he parked the van and walked around National Harbor, prosecutors said. He broke into a boat and hid overnight. Prince George’s County Police arrested Mr. Henry the next morning as he tried to hop a security fence.
Crowds at National Harbor Tuesday afternoon were enjoying warm spring weather, but concerns over the case were evident.
“Terrorism is not criminal, it’s something else, and when it comes to terrorism, you need to investigate it all the way to end,” said Jay Hernandez, a tourist from Los Angeles. “Sometimes we have too much tolerance for these guys.”
Prince George’s County Police spokeswoman Jennifer Donelan would not reveal any details about the arrest, and praised the coordination between local police and several federal agencies to track and apprehend Mr. Henry.
“What could have happened is very frightening but the good news is that everything worked exactly the way it was supposed to work,” Ms. Donelan told The Washington Times.
Security staff at National Habor would not comment on the case, but a spokesperson for the complex praised the actions that led to Mr. Henry’s arrest.
“National Harbor is grateful for the quick and effective response to this threat by its law enforcement partners,” a representative of the complex said in an email, adding that the area has a 24-hour Prince George’s County Police, Fire and EMS substation and an “extensive camera network” that works with federal, state and local law enforcement.