Man Inspired by ISIS Planned to Plow Into Crowd at National Harbor: Federal Officials

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
April 9, 2019USshare
Man Inspired by ISIS Planned to Plow Into Crowd at National Harbor: Federal Officials
Rondell Henry, 28, of Germantown, was arrested at National Harbor with a stolen U-Haul he planned to plow into a crowd with in an ISIS-inspired attack, according to federal authorities on March 28, 2019. (Montgomery County Police Department)

A Maryland man inspired by the terror group ISIS planned to take a U-Haul he’d stolen and plow into crowds at the National Harbor, authorities said.

Rondell Henry, 28, of Germantown, was arrested on March 28 at National Harbor with the stolen vehicle, according to court documents, including a newly unsealed charging document.

Henry harbored “hatred” for “disbelievers” who didn’t practice Islam and admitted to plotting to kill such people, authorities said in court documents (pdf) filed in the U.S. District Court for Maryland.

Henry allegedly spent a few hours at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia on March 27 observing the crowds but thought that an attack wouldn’t make enough of an impact because he thought there were too few people outside the airport.

NTD Photo
Children play on J. Seward Johnson’s sculpture, “The Awakening,” along the Potomac River waterfront at National Harbor, Maryland, on Sept. 3, 2016 (Jose Luis Magana, File/AP Photo)

He turned his attention to National Harbor, a large compound outside Washington DC full of shops and restaurants.

“He had no escape plan, intending to die while killing others for his cause,” the government said in a memo asking a judge to not allow Henry to be released before trial.

Henry was inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, an Islamist terror group that foments violence across the world but has been largely decimated in recent years by American and allied forces.

Henry watched videos of ISIS militants beheading civilians and fighting in the Middle East. He “considered these gruesome actions brave and he wanted to emulate them,” the government said.

NTD Photo
A portion of the government motion asking a judge to not allow Rondell Henry to go free before trial. (Department of Justice)

The planned attack was based on an attack in Nice, France, where a terrorist drove a truck into a crowd of people, killing 84 and leaving dozens of others injured.

“I was just going to keep driving and driving and driving. I wasn’t going to stop,” Henry told authorities at one point, according to the motion.

Before he was arrested, Henry was considered a “critical missing person,” as his family alerted police that he hadn’t shown up for work and they couldn’t contact him.

On March 27, a Wednesday, Henry drove to the National Harbor after giving up on attacking the airport but also found a thin crowd there. He parked the van and broke into a boat to spend the night.

Police officers found the stolen van and parked nearby to see who would return to the van. They arrested Henry when he left the boat dock, leaping over a security fence.

Henry was charged with interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Leader of the ISIS terrorist group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at a mosque in Iraq, on July 5, 2014. (AP Photo/extremist video)
Leader of the ISIS terrorist group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at a mosque in Iraq, on July 5, 2014. (Extremist video/AP Photo)

Expert Weighs In

Although the alleged planned attack wasn’t sophisticated, it would have been effective, just like the one in France. The type of plan, featuring so-called lone wolves who don’t have prior terror links or training and are radicalized online, are the most difficult to stop, an expert said.

“Because there’s not a real conspiracy. If the individual is not boasting on the internet that they’re going to do something, in other words, not attracting attention to themselves, then there’s no indicator,” Brian Jenkins, director of the Mineta Transportation Institute’s National Transportation Safety and Security Center, and an expert on terrorists targeting soft targets such as malls or train stations, told USA Today.

“There’s no alarm bell to warn authorities that something was up.”

The Mineta group analyzed (pdf) car-ramming attacks and found that 30 happened in 2017 and the first four months of 2018 across 19 countries, including the United States.

“What we’re seeing is an increase in the number of homegrown terrorists using very, very primitive tactics against random targets … The reason we’re seeing this is there is an exhortation from these jihadist groups like Al Qaeda, like ISIS, to inspire homegrown terrorist to do whatever they can, where ever they are,” Jenkins said.

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