Man arrested in FBI sting planned bombing, officials say
Fake explosive used in alleged plot near Baltimore
BALTIMORE — A 21-year-old construction worker who had recently converted to Islam and told an FBI informant he thought about nothing but jihad was arrested yesterday when he tried to detonate what he thought was a bomb at a military recruitment center in Catonsville, Md., authorities said.
Antonio Martinez, a naturalized US citizen also known as Muhammad Hussain, faces charges of attempted murder of federal officers and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction at the center near Baltimore, according to court documents filed yesterday.
The bomb he is accused of trying to detonate was fake and had been provided by an undercover FBI agent.
It was the second time in less than two weeks that a young man was arrested trying to detonate what he thought was a bomb during a sting operation.
“There was never any actual danger to the public during this operation this morning,’’ US Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said yesterday after a hearing in federal District Court in Baltimore. “That’s because the FBI was controlling the situation.’’
Martinez appeared in court yesterday and was ordered held for a hearing Monday.
According to court documents, he has been on the FBI’s radar screen since October, when he told a confidential FBI source he wanted to attack and kill military personnel. Investigators believed Martinez posed a genuine threat and that he came up with the plan by himself.
“The investigation was undertaken only because experts had made the determination that there was a real risk,’’ Rosenstein said.
The case is similar to one in Portland, Ore., where authorities said they arrested a Somali-born teenager the day after Thanksgiving when he used a cellphone to try to detonate what he thought were explosives in a van. He intended to bomb a crowded downtown Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, but the people he had been communicating with about the plot were in fact FBI agents.
After Martinez found out about that case, he called the FBI informant he had been plotting with and expressed reservations about their plan, according to court documents.
But he ultimately decided to continue with the plot. Yesterday he drove an SUV with the dummy bomb to the recruiting center and parked outside the building, authorities said. When he attempted to detonate the device, he was arrested.
During yesterday’s hearing, Martinez told the judge he could not afford an attorney. He said he works in construction, is married, and understood the charges against him.
Asked to identify himself, he said he was Muhammad Hussain but confirmed Antonio Martinez is his legal name. Joseph Balter, the public defender assigned to represent him, cautioned against a rush to judgment.
“It’s very, very early in this case,’’ he said.
Authorities did not say where Martinez was born or what prompted his conversion to Islam. According to court documents, he explained to the FBI informant that his mother did not approve of how he had chosen to live. His wife, he said, accepted his lifestyle.
“I told her I want to fight jihad . . . and she said she doesn’t want to stop me,’’ he said, adding that he was glad he was not like other people his age, going out or going to school. “That’s not me . . . that not what Allah has in mind for me.’’
Martinez lives in a northwest Baltimore neighborhood in a tidy, three-story yellow house that’s been divided into apartments. No one answered the door yesterday afternoon.
George Jackson, 77, a retired truck driver who lives in the neighborhood and works part-time at a church across the street, said he did not know Martinez.
“Unbelievable, right here in the neighborhood, living next to us. It’s a shame,’’ Jackson said.
A man who identified himself as Martinez’s brother-in-law responded to a Facebook message from The Associated Press by referring questions to Balter.
White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said the arrest underscores the need for vigilance against terrorism and illustrates why President Obama’s administration is focused on addressing “domestic radicalization.’’