New details on man who allegedly plotted to bomb U.S. Capitol

Published: Jan. 14, 2015 at 10:26 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 16, 2015 at 10:36 AM EST
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Christopher Cornell is being held at the Butler County Jail (mugshot left) and Cornell's...
Christopher Cornell is being held at the Butler County Jail (mugshot left) and Cornell's yearbook photo (right) (Photo: Mugshot: Butler County Jail/Yearbook: Emily Buckley/Oak Hills Local School District)
Point Blank Range is where Cornell bought the guns (Photo: FOX19 NOW/Brett Hoffland)
Point Blank Range is where Cornell bought the guns (Photo: FOX19 NOW/Brett Hoffland)
Parents Angel Carmen and John Cornell. John says his son recently converted to Islam. (FOX19)
Parents Angel Carmen and John Cornell. John says his son recently converted to Islam. (FOX19)

GREEN TOWNSHIP, HAMILTON COUNTY, OH (FOX19) – - A Green Township man was arrested on Wednesday after FBI officials claim he was plotting to bomb the U.S. Capitol building.

Christopher Cornell, 20, is accused of scheming with a confidential informant to build and detonate pipe bombs at or near the U.S. Capitol, and then shoot employees inside the federal building, the FBI's Cincinnati office announced.

According to court documents, Cornell created a Twitter account under the alias of Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah last summer. That's where he posted videos and statements supporting ISIS and violent jihad in North America.

New details are emerging on who Christopher Cornell is.  

[How could this happen here? Local terror expert says ISIS and al-Qaida are "masterful" at appealing to young people]

In August, a confidential FBI source began to contact Cornell who responded via instant message that he had been contact with individuals overseas, but he did not believe that he would receive authorization to conduct a terrorist attack in the United States.

Cornell told the informant that they should go on with the attack.

"I believe that we should just wage jihad under our own orders and plan an attack," Cornell said to the informant.

Cornell met with the FBI informant Oct. 17 and 18 and again Nov. 10 and 11. Federal authorities say he discussed they would build, plant and detonate pipe bombs at the U.S Capitol. Then, Cornell and the informant would shoot and kill employees inside.

Cornell showed the informant on his computer that he researched how to construct pipe bombs and the cost of the guns they would buy for the attack.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Cornell bought firearms and 600 rounds of ammunition at Point Blank Range and Gun shop on Harrison Avenue in Colerain Township Wednesday.

He walked out of the store and was tackled by an FBI joint terrorism task force in the store parking lot. Federal authorities seized the weapons and ammunition and placed the 2012 Oak Hills High School graduate under arrest.

Cornell publicly displayed anti-American sentiments in 2013 at a 9/11 memorial dedication, according to Green Township Police Chief Bart West. 

The crowd blocked Cornell from sight as he held a sign reading "9/11 was an inside job." Chief Bart says officials only asked Cornell his name without further questioning, but that officers identified him from previous encounters.

Cornell is charged with attempted killing of a U.S. government official and possession of a firearm in furtherance of attempted crime of violence.

"I applaud the FBI and other law enforcement officials on their work to thwart this potential terrorist act," said Sen. Rob Portman. "It is an important reminder of the very real threat that radical Islam continues to pose to the homeland."

Christopher is currently being held at the Butler County Jail. He is scheduled for a detention hearing at 1:30 Friday afternoon at the federal courthouse in Cincinnati where his family says he will be represented by a federal public defender.

Butler County Sheriff Rick Jones says Christopher has been showing some odd behavior spending his time in an isolation cell.

"He is reading lips. He listens very intently and I'm sure he knows that he's got the attention of the entire country and other countries," Sheriff Jones said.

[Sheriff Jones on Cornell: "He's a special prisoner."]

The FBI case set off shock waves around the Tri-State and especially on the West Side, a traditional and predominantly Catholic and close-knit community that has produced generations of public servants such as police officers, firefighters, judges and prosecutors.

Cornell's parents paint the picture of a boy with a happy childhood, who say his recent conversion to Islam made him happier, kinder and more peaceful.

"I'm not saying my son is a saint. The only saints I know are in heaven," Christopher Cornell's father, John Cornell said.

Christopher's mother, Angel Carmen, says as a child, her son was a very happy little boy.

"He had a great childhood. He had friends. He and his brother got along. They were like this together," Angel Carmen said.

Angel Carmen says that Christopher started wrestling when he was 9-years-old and continued through high school at Oak Hills.

"When he was wrestling, he was the greatest. Everywhere we went everybody knew him," Angel Carmen said.

John described his son as a good, quiet kid who recently converted to Islam.

"He graduated (when) he was 18-years-old," John said. "I don't think he really knew where he wanted to go in life. I was the same way."

Christopher's family say he had been interested in Islam for several months and it was only recently that he actually converted to Islam.

"That's when he started praying. Actually praying.  Yes he prayed here," John said.

Cornell's parents admit the conversion did change their song, but for the better.  They claim it didn't change him into the terrorist he's now accused of being.

"He said I found this peace. He said I am at peace with myself. I'm at peace with God and he was at peace with other people and that's when we really started to get along," John said.

[4 laptops, 4 cell phones among items taken from Ohio terror suspect's home]

John Cornell said his son started attending mosques in the past six-to-eight weeks.

Initial reports said that Cornell had attended Masjid Abu Bakr Siddique mosque on Harrison Avenue.

However, current members say that they've never seen or heard of Christopher Cornell.

"No, I've never seen him before," Samou Doumbia said.

Doumbia says the mosque is intended to further spiritual goals, not radicalization.

"We just come pray because we are Muslim. You can be African or, you know, American. If you're Muslim at prayer time you just come pray here," Doumbia said.

Cornell's alleged plot to detonate bombs inside the U.S capitol and then shoot employees inside is something these Muslims don't want to be associated with.

"We don't want that because Islam doesn't mean like killing people, killing innocent people. The word Islam means like peace. So if you call yourself being a Muslim you should be like a good should be an example for the other people," Gaye Soumare said.

Christopher's arrest shocked his former Oak Hills High School teachers and classmates.

"People who were close to him probably saw a different side of him. If you weren't close to him, you only knew him as a quiet, standoffish person," said Lynessa Gilpin, a former Oak Hills High School student. "I wouldn't have expected this from him or anyone from Oak Hills at all."

"You hear about these situations happening in Iraq and Jerusalem, but you never think it's going to happen at home," Gilpin said.

"During his time at Oak Hills High School, he was a typical student," said Principal John Stoddard in a prepared statement. "Christopher was not a disruption or a discipline problem in school. His teachers were shocked at the news of his involvement in this situation. Teachers at Oak Hills High School remember Christopher as a quiet, but not overly reserved, student who would participate in class and did not withdraw from his class work."

"It was a real shocker. I had no idea," said Brandon Zimmerman, a former Oak Hills High School student who knew Cornell. "He was more of a quieter guy. I talked to him a few times at lunch. He was kind of a different guy to talk to."

"I hadn't heard from him in a long time. I was just shocked that he planned something like that," said another classmate, who requested anonymity.

The classmate said the two haven't spoken in a long time, and before that, they spent time together sparingly. According to that anonymous acquaintance, some strange things popped up on social media from Cornell. At one time, he said Cornell tagged him in an anti-government related post on Facebook.

"We'd talk about skateboarding. I'm a big car guy, and we'd talk about cars and stuff like that. It was nothing out of the normal," the classmate said.

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