NATIONAL HARBOR – A Germantown resident stole a truck and planned to run over people in the developed areas of the National Harbor in a terrorist-inspired attack before being arrested on March 28, federal prosecutors say.
In a motion for a detention document filed on April 8, Rondell Henry, 28, is in federal custody after Prince George’s County Police arrested him a week earlier, being charged with interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle. He was found in possession of a stolen U-Haul van and allegedly had plans to carry out an attack similarly carried out by the international terrorist group ISIS.
The motion states that Henry, a computer engineer, walked out of his job in the middle of the day, heading “down the extremist path.” He was known to have harbored hatred for those who did not practice the Muslim faith but did not have any experience using weapons. He drove to Virginia and stole the U-Haul van to plow over people in a crowded location.
The Montgomery County Department of Police (MCP) reported him as missing in a press release on March 27 and asked for the public’s assistance in locating him. He had been last seen by co-workers the day before at noon before he left his place of employment in Germantown.
According to MCP officials, family members had not been able to contact him since and were “concerned for Henry’s physical and emotional welfare.” However, according to Captain Tom Jordan, there had been no suspicions of Henry’s intentions at the time.
“Our contact with him on the 27th was strictly because he was a missing person and his family had reported him as missing, and they were concerned,” Jordan said. “So our interaction with him was pretty much primarily dealt with in this missing person phase, which does, in fact, turn into more when you deal with the Prince George’s County event and the federal announcement that came out yesterday.”
He originally chose to carry out the attack at Dulles International Airport in the early morning on March 27, according to federal prosecutors. However, after two hours of failed attempts to breach security, Henry drove away and arrived at the National Harbor, which sits 2.5 miles away from Oxon Hill.
He told investigators that he was willing to die for the cause and selected the National Harbor because the number of people that used the area was perfect for the attack he wanted to commit.
“I was just going to keep driving and driving and driving,” Henry said according to the court filing. “I wasn’t going to stop.”
Authorities say Henry was looking to commit a similar attack that was carried out on July 14, 2016, in Nice, France where Tunisian terrorist Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a cargo truck into a large crowd, killing 86 people. ISIS publicly claimed responsibility for the attack that ended with Bouhlel being killed by French authorities in a shootout.
He attempted to discard his phone on an interstate highway to destroy evidence of his motivations, according to the court documents. However, investigators found Henry’s phone filled with images with ISIS fighters, its flag and the Pulse nightclub shooter.
Federal officials also say that Henry was prepared to commit the attack on March 27, but with very few people out during a weekday morning, he decided to break into a boat docked nearby and hid eovernight. Local outlets are reporting the boat belonged to a local police officer. PGPD spotted the stolen U-Haul and waited for Henry to return to the van before arresting him.
On April 9, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas DiGirolamo ordered that Henry be held without bond while he awaits trial, agreeing with federal prosecutors that he is serious flight risk and a danger to the community. In his detention order, DiGirolamo that there was “strong evidence not only of the offense charged, but also that the defendant was planning a terrorist attack.”
Public defender Michael CitaraManis had argued to have Henry serve house arrest before the judge made his decision. Thomas Mooney, an attorney representing Henry prior to the hearing, told reporters his client is “a valued member of the community with a peaceful and productive history. Because criminal charges are pending, no factual statements will be made at this time.”
“We continue to gather evidence, as well as review evidence already obtained as part of this ongoing investigation,” U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur said.
PGPD Police Chief Hank Stawinski said that they were unable to tell county residents of the arrest until April 8 but credited officers who found the van during a routine patrol.
“Once those circumstances became aware, and we started collaborating on this, it became more than a simple stolen vehicle and using good forensics in Montgomery County, using good and thoughtful in Alexandria and Prince George’s County, we and the agents were able to peace this together and understand that this is not simply a person in a stolen vehicle posed a greater threat,” Stawinski said.
The National Harbor boasts over 10 million annual visitors with easy pedestrian access to restaurants, shopping stories, the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, a marina and The Capital Wheel. Depending on the day the attack would have occurred, the potential number of casualties would have been catastrophic, officials say.
“The best news is that it didn’t happen,” PGPD Spokesperson Donelan said. “We stopped it.”
Reporter Jessica Ricks contributed to this report.