By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, [email protected]
National Harbor may have been the target of a terrorist plot that was thwarted by authorities. Federal officials have charged Rondell Henry, 28, of Germantown, who allegedly planned to drive a truck into a crowd at the popular recreational and tourist destination in Oxon Hill.
Federal prosecutors say Henry plotted to drive a stolen U-Haul truck into pedestrians after being inspired by the Islamic State and planned to use the truck as a weapon against “disbelievers,” according to numerous reports. Henry was apparently trying to follow the script of previous attacks in Nice, France and New York City.
The tragic French incident took place when a man in a large truck drove into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in 2016, killing 86 people and injuring hundreds. New York City’s fatal attack in 2017 left eight dead and 12 injured when a 29-year-old man from Uzbekistan in Central Asia rented a pickup truck and drove down a busy bicycle path near the World Trade Center in Manhattan.
Federal prosecutors claim Henry was inspired by attacks like these after watching videos of them online and “harbored hatred for those who do not practice the Muslim faith.”
In late March Henry was the subject of an intense missing persons investigation in Montgomery County after abruptly leaving his job in Germantown then disappearing. The press release acknowledged his family was “concerned for Henry’s physical and emotional welfare.”
According to the prosecutor’s charges, the same day that he went incognito, Henry allegedly stole a rented U-Haul van in Alexandria and left his car behind. He allegedly recognized that his car was not large enough to cause the level of damage that he wanted, so he then drove around the area looking for a larger vehicle to steal.
The prosecutorial allegations assert Henry drove the van to Dulles International Airport in Virginia and attempted to find a way through security around 5 a.m. March 27. Henry was looking to kill pedestrians “in a way designed for maximum publicity.” After spending two hours at the airport trying to get past security, he decided to take the van to National Harbor.
There, according to prosecutors, he parked the van and walked around to observe how he would execute the attack. Henry allegedly changed his plans to drive into pedestrians when saw the small crowd before he broke into a boat to hide in overnight while waiting for larger crowds.
However, on the morning of March 28, police found the stolen U-Haul parked at National Harbor. Prince George’s police officers saw Henry jumping over a security fence and arrested him recognizing he was something more than a random trespasser.
Prince George’s County police chief Hank Stawinski said that the arresting officers were able to establish that this case was more than just a stolen vehicle and that Henry represented a broader threat to the community.
Henry was charged with transporting a stolen vehicle across state lines. He appeared at a detention hearing in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt April 9. A motion to detain Henry ahead of his trial was filed arguing that he is a flight risk and danger to the community. If convicted, Henry could face up to 10 years in prison.
For almost two decades authorities have worried about international terrorists attacks inside the United States. Concerns are mounting that the most dangerous terror threats to the U.S. are people living around the nation, with a variety of extremist views.
“It’s about going beyond what’s apparent and asking ‘is there more going on here than we’re aware of?” Stawinski said.