(Reuters) – An Oklahoma man has been arrested by the FBI on charges that he tried to blow up an Oklahoma City bank building with a van he thought was packed with explosives, U.S. prosecutors said on Monday.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Jerry Drake Varnell, 23, of Sayre, Oklahoma, on Saturday. According to a complaint, Varnell had initially planned to bomb the U.S. Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C., in a manner similar to the 1995 explosion at a federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people.
“This arrest is the culmination of a long-term domestic terrorism investigation involving an undercover operation, during which Varnell had been monitored closely for months as the alleged bomb plot developed,” federal prosecutors said in a statement. “The device was actually inert, and the public was not in danger.”
Prosecutors said that during the investigation an undercover agent had posed as a co-conspirator and agreed to help Varnell build what he believed was a 1,000-pound (454 kg) explosive.
Agents arrested him after he made a call on Saturday morning to a mobile phone he believed would detonate a device in a van parked beside a BancFirst Corp (BANF.O) building in downtown Oklahoma City, the complaint said.
Varnell was charged with malicious attempted destruction of a building in interstate commerce. He is expected to make his first court appearance in federal court in Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon.
According to the complaint Varnell told an FBI informant that he was upset with the government and was seeking retaliation.
The complaint filed in the federal court in Oklahoma City said that at the onset of the investigation, Varnell said he wanted to build a team to conduct a bombing. “I’m out for blood,'” the complaint quoted Varnell as saying. “‘When militias start getting formed I’m going after government officials when I have a team.'”
Prosecutors were not immediately able to say if Varnell had a lawyer.
The BancFirst building is a few blocks from where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building stood. A truck loaded with explosives was detonated in front of the Murrah building in 1995 in what was called an act of domestic terrorism.
U.S. prosecutors said Varnell had prepared a social media message to be posted after the explosion, and helped make and load a device into a stolen van. They said he drove the van alone and parked it in an alley by the bank, then called a mobile phone to trigger the device.
If convicted, Varnell could serve 20 years in prison.
Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Toni Reinhold
Powered by WPeMatico