Suspect in Pentagon scare faces judge
Updated: June 20, 2011 - 07:52 pm
A northern Virginia man whose suspicious behavior near the Pentagon prompted a security scare appeared Monday in state court to answer unrelated charges.
Yonathan Melaku of Alexandria appeared before a Loudoun County General District Court on two grand larceny charges that officers say happened on May 26th in Leesburg. The 22-year-old Melaku was ordered held without bond pending a status hearing Thursday.
Earlier this month he was charged with four counts and released on $5,000 bond.
On Friday, the Commonwealth's Attorney filed the two new charges. Senior Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney, Amy Totten, would not say why the charges were filed Friday following the incident at Arlington National Cemetery.
Melaku was taken into Loudoun custody from federal authorities. Melaku's attorney, Robert May, was not in court for the two new charges. Melaku will be back in court on Thursday at 11:15 a.m. to review whether he's retained counsel. In the meantime he will remain without bond at the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center.
Totten would not comment on anything related to Friday's pentagon scare.
Marine reservist remains in custody after Pentagon scare
Melaku was discovered after 1 a.m. Friday inside Arlington National Cemetery, several hours after it had closed.
As officials investigated the contents of Melaku's bag and his car parked nearby, roads were closed around the Pentagon, snarling rush hour traffic for hours.
Melaku, a naturalized citizen originally from Ethiopia, was detained for trespassing after becoming uncooperative, authorities said, but hadn't been charged as of Friday night.
Melaku was not believed to have any ties to al-Qaida or any other terrorist organization, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Melaku had a bag with a substance that at least initially was feared to be ammonium nitrate, which can be used in explosives with the correct concentration and is also widely used in fertilizers, according to a second law enforcement official. But the official said there was nothing in Melaku's possession that could have detonated or caused an explosion.
Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the investigation.
The FBI declined to specify what was in the backpack, but said the items were undergoing further testing at the laboratory in Quantico and that Melaku did not possess any explosives. It was not immediately clear late Friday what any testing showed.
"I can tell you this was not a device and that the products in the backpack are inert," said Brenda Heck, special agent in charge of the counterterrorism unit at the FBI's Washington field office.
Melaku joined the Marine Corps Reserves in September 2007 and is currently listed as a lance corporal and motor vehicle operator with a combat engineer battalion headquartered in Baltimore, according to the FBI.
He has received the National Defense Service Medal and the Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal. He has not been deployed overseas.
Lt. Col. Francis Piccoli, a spokesman for the Marine Forces Reserve, said Melaku was not on active duty at the time he was detained. He said a quick review of his records showed nothing negative in his background or performance.
Melaku remained in the custody of the U.S. Park Police as investigators in protective white suits and bomb-sniffing dogs went through his brick town-home in suburban Washington.
Melaku was arrested a few weeks ago in Leesburg, Va., accused of damaging cars and stealing items from them. His attorney in that case did not return a call seeking comment Friday.
In another incident earlier this week that officials treated as suspicious, a vehicle was pulled over near the Pentagon after the driver appeared to be backing up against traffic. Authorities determined that people inside the vehicle were taking pictures of the Pentagon, and an occupant admitted carrying a gun, said Pentagon police spokesman Chris Layman. The incidents appeared unrelated, he said.
No explosives found with suspect in Pentagon incident
Authorities say no explosives were found in a suspicious vehicle located near the Pentagon and no charges have been filed against a Marine reservist who was taken into custody in connection with the incident.
The man has been identified as Yonathan Melaku, 22, of Alexandria. He was taken into custody for trespassing.
An Army policeman confronted Melaku at Arlington Cemetery at about 2 a.m. Mealku fled. When police found him, he was carrying a backpack filled with four zip-lock bags of a substance that was feared to be ammonium nitrate, which can be used to make bombs.
Also inside the backpack were spent 9mm ammunition. ABC News sources say he had a notebook written in it with the words “Al Qaeda,” “Taliban rules,” “Mujahidin” and “Defeated coalition forces.”
Police reportedly searched Melaku's home in Alexandria. A bomb squad truck arrived at his home at around 10:30 a.m. F.B.I. Washington Field Office spokesman Andrew Ames says F.B.I. bomb technicians and bomb-sniffing dogs went into the house without a search warrant due to a public safety threat.
The material in the backpack may be ammonium nitrate, but not the type that is explosive. No explosives were found in Melaku’s home or car.
Leesburg police have confirmed that Melaku was arrested on May 26 in connection with a rash of auto tamperings and charged with four counts of grand larceny.
- Yonathan Melaku
Brenda Heck, special agent in charge of the Washington Field Office's Countererrorism Division, said in a Friday press conference that Melaku acted alone.
She says Melaku had a backpack, containing 'suspicious items', but wouldn't give any further details.
ABC News sources say he had a notebook written in it with the words “Al Qaeda,” “Taliban rules,” “Mujahidin” and “Defeated coalition forces.”
Melaku lives in the Autumn Chase Development of Franconia. He is an Ethiopian immigrant who lives with his parents, neighbors say. The father and son both drive taxis.
One New Yorker who moved to Charles Town, West Virginia after 9/11 said as she watched the news Friday morning she thought, "Oh no, here we go again."
“You have this fear and you don't know what to expect," said Mary Merolle.
U.S. Park Police Sgt. David Schlosser says Melaku had previously fled from Fort Meyers police officers. He was later found by Arlington police in Arlington National Cemetery after hours and taken into custody. During a police interview, the person was uncooperative, Schlosser said.
Schlosser says the items in his backpack were "a little bit concerning."
Melaku's red 2011 Nissan was located near the Pentagon, but no explosives were found inside, Heck said.
Service in the military
Authorities said Melaku joined the Marine Corps Reserve on Sept. 4, 2007 and is currently listed as a Marine Corps reservist Lance Cpl. and a motor vehicle operator with Combat Engineer Support Company, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve.
Melaku's unit was trained in land mine clearing. He was not specifically trained in demolitions. He was not on active drilling status at the time of the incident. His unit is based in Baltimore.
He has previously been awarded the National Defense Service Medal and the Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal. Both awards are given to all Marines in good standing with three years of service. He has not deployed overseas.
The Associated Press reports that authorities found the car in the bushes near the Pentagon's north parking lot.
Schlosser originally said authorities conducted a sweep of the area due to claims that the person in custody planted suspicious devices around the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery and the Iwo Jima Memorial.
The O’Sullivans are from the U.K. Their tour bus guide never mentioned the morning mess to them and they say security never came up in their trip-planning at all.
“I think we assumed it's the states,” said Paul O’Sullivan. “They've got it covered, that they take security fairly seriously.”
The incident created ghastly gridlock, with some commuters stuck in traffic for several hours. On I-395, the traffic stretched from the District all the way to Springfield.
Around 8:30 a.m., I-66 was also clogged up. Commuters said it took them three times longer to get to their destinations than normal.
The investigation closed routes 27 and 110. All ramps to and from I-395 near the Pentagon and eastbound Interstate 55 to Route 10.
“Every place I tried to turn to get to Clarendon, I couldn't go there,” said District resident Betsy Ankney.
Betsy Ankney, District Resident: every place I tried to turn to get to Clarendon, I couldn't go there.
With reporting from the Associated Press.
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