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Georgia man pleads guilty in plot to attack the White House

The White House North Lawn, March 26, 2019 on the North Lawn. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

A Forsyth County man accused of plotting to attack the White House pleaded guilty, the Atlanta U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday.

Hasher Jallal Taheb, 23, was arrested in January 2019 in Gwinnett County, where he was unwittingly the target of an FBI sting operation. He thought he was buying a truckload of weapons to use in an attack, during which he planned to blow a hole in the side of the White House and also attack other targets around Washington, D.C. He pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to destroy a federal building and is set to be sentenced on June 23.

“Taheb hatched a dangerous plan that would have resulted in unimaginable injury,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “We are grateful to community members who noticed his dangerous evolution and alerted law enforcement.”

According to the federal authorities, Taheb was reported to police by someone who had noticed him “radicalizing” and heard him talk of traveling abroad. During an undercover investigation by the FBI, he revealed he planned to take part in “jihad.” Authorities have said Taheb was influenced by the teachings of the late Yemeni-American imam and al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki.

Taheb’s targets included the White House, the Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and a synagogue, according to authorities.

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He was arrested on Jan. 16, 2019, while trying to pick up semi-automatic assault rifles, explosive devices and an anti-tank weapon.

Taheb’s plans sounded poorly thought out and extremely difficult to pull off, terrorism experts said in interviews with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but could have still caused serious damage.

“In the course of trying to get to accomplish a fantastical plot, somebody can get hurt,” Georgia Tech professor Margaret Kosal said shortly after Taheb’s arrest. “The FBI is forced to take all of them seriously, and that is what they should do.”

In a bond hearing last year, federal public defenders Vionnette Johnson and Brian Mendelsohn suggested that Taheb had been led on during the undercover FBI investigation.

The Forsyth Central High School graduate had been living with his mom and making $8.15 an hour at a car wash. He had never fired a gun in his life and didn’t know how, his public defenders said.

“He is not a danger to the community,” Johnson said. “He does not have the ability to do any of this. … This grandiose plan, this fantastical plan, could not be farther from reality.”

Federal authorities praised the unnamed community member who alerted police about Taheb, as well as the work of various agencies.

“Thanks to a tip from a member of the community and the work of the agents, analysts, and prosecutors responsible for this case, the threat posed by the defendant was neutralized and the defendant has admitted his guilt and will now be held accountable for his crime,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.

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© 2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution