A Germantown man, who federal prosecutors say was planning an ISIS-inspired vehicle terror attack in National Harbor, was order detained by a federal judge in United States District Court.
US Magistrate Judge Thomas DiGirolamo agreed with federal prosecutors that Rondell Henry, 28, of Germantown, should be held in custody at a detention hearing in Maryland as he awaits trial on charges of vehicle theft. The detention will allow investigators to build a case that Henry was plotting to carry out a mass-casualty attack in a tourist area by using a stole van as a deadly weapon.
Assistant US Attorney Thomas Windom asked Judge DiGirolamo to detain Henry based on Henry’s own admission that he was planning to “going to keep driving and driving and driving” into crowds of pedestrians in the National Harbor area of Prince Georges County. Windom argued that releasing Henry would pose a danger to the community.
Judge DiGirolamo rejected the public defender’s assertion that because Henry does not have any previous criminal history and the only charge against him is vehicle theft, he should be allowed to be kept on house arrest in the custody of his family with 24 hour monitoring.
Through the course of the investigation, according the United States Attorney’s Motion For Detention Pending Trial, law enforcement officers learned that Henry has harbored “hatred” for “disbelievers” who do not practice the Muslim faith. The motion went on to describe that Henry has been seeking out and watching videos of foreign terrorists beheading
civilians. “The defendant considered these gruesome actions brave and he wanted to emulate them,” said the Motion. “The defendant, though, did not have any weapons training. He was a computer engineer by trade, and knew nothing of explosives or firearms. But he knew how to drive, and also knew of the terrorist truck attack in Nice, France. So the defendant decided to use what was readily at his disposal and conduct a vehicular attack on a crowd of innocents,” reads the Motion to Detain, which was signed by United States Attorney Richard K. Hur.
Henry, a naturalized citizen after coming to the United States from Trinidad and Tobago some 11 years ago, walked out of his place of employment in Germantown in the middle of the day on Tuesday, March 26, “determined to walk down the extremist path,” according the Motion to Detain.
On March 26, the Alexandria Police Department was contacted concerning a leased U-Haul vehicle that had been stolen from a parking garage at a mall in Alexandria, Virginia. The driver, who had rented the U-Haul vehicle had noticed a man driving a blue BMW following the U-Haul off Interstate 395 and onto mall property, then follow the U-Haul into the parking garage and park a few spaces away. When police responded to the garage, they found the BMW near where the U-Haul had been stolen. A check of the BMW’s registration records revealed that the BMW was registered to Rondell Henry.
On Wednesday, March 27, Montgomery County Police put out a Missing Persons press release reading that 5th District investigative officers were asking the public’s assistance in locating Henry, who was last seen by co-workers at approximately noon on Tuesday, March 26 when he left his place of employment in Germantown.
Also on March 27, the stolen U-Haul was located at the National Harbor in Maryland. Law enforcement reviewed video surveillance of the area that showed Henry parking and subsequently exiting the stolen U-Haul.
After stealing the van, prosecutors say Henry drove around, arriving at Dulles International Airport in Virginia at approximately 5:00 am on Wednesday, March 27. The government’s motion for detention alleges that Henry exited his U-Haul and entered the terminal, trying to find a way through security, allegedly to harm “disbelievers” in a way designed for maximum publicity. After more than two hours of failing to breach Dulles’s security perimeter, Henry allegedly returned to the U-Haul.
According to court documents, prosecutors located Henry’s phone, which he discarded on a highway in an apparent attempt to conceal evidence. Federal authorities found images of the ISIS flag, armed ISIS fighters and the man who carried out the massacre in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., three years ago.
According to the motion for detention, Henry then drove the U-Haul from Virginia to the National Harbor in Maryland, arriving around 10:00 am on Wednesday, March 27. The motion for detention alleges that Henry parked the U-Haul and walked around a popular part of National Harbor. Prosecutors say that because it was a Wednesday morning and few tourists were in National Harbor, Henry opted to wait until the area was more crowded.
“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. He parked the U-Haul and walked around until he found what he considered an ideal spot for an attack, in a popular part of National Harbor. He even calculated how he may have to come off the road and onto the sidewalk in order hit people.” However, the thin crowds populating National Harbor did not present the target rich environment and he delayed the attack. According to the Motion to Detain, Henry broke into a marina and spent the night in a boat.
By the following morning, Thursday, March 28, police had discovered the location of the stolen U-Haul, and alert Prince George County Police officers noticed Henry as he leaped over a security fence from the boat dock, and he was placed under arrest. At about 1:30 pm on March 28, Montgomery County Police reported that Henry had been located “safe and unharmed.”
According to Rick Goodale, a spokesman for Montgomery County Police Department, Montgomery County was unaware of Henry’s movements and alleged plot to commit a terror attack at the time of the original missing persons press release, and when they update was provided. It was not until the FBI asked to use the photo of Rondell Henry that Montgomery County became aware of the additional charges and detainer request.
If convicted, Henry faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle, however, more charges are expected to be filed in this case.
Photo courtesy MCPD and United States Attorney