BRIDGEPORT — A Moroccan national who allegedly plotted to turn a radio-controlled model airplane into a drone-like flying bomb and crash it into a school and a Connecticut federal building was arrested Monday by FBI agents.
Wires and tools were found in the High Ridge Drive apartment where El Mehdi Semlali Fahti, 27, had been living since January with an individual he met while incarcerated in Virginia, according to the FBI. It was not known if any explosives were found.
Fahti told an undercover agent in five recorded conversations that he studied the bomb attack operation for months, and had made a chemical bomb while in high school in Morocco, court documents charge. The recordings additionally claim he could obtain whatever else he needed for his plans in “Southern California on the border.”
He said funding would come from “secret accounts” comprised of money-laundered cash and drug dealing profits, the FBI said.
An affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Anabela Sharp does not specifically identify either building that Fahti allegedly targeted, except to say one was an out-of-state school and the other a federal building in Connecticut.
Fahti does not face federal terrorism charges at this time; those could come later when Assistant U.S. Attorney Krishna Patel takes the evidence to a federal grand jury while seeking an indictment.
Fahti is accused of making a false statement, falsely swearing under oath and falsifying declarations to a federal Immigration judge. Those actions allowed him to stay in the U.S. for seven years after his student visa expired and he flunked out of Virginia International University.
Since then, Fahti has traveled across the U.S. He was briefly arrested on a trespassing charge in Virginia, which was later dropped and he was incarcerated in California on a theft charge. He only moved to Bridgeport recently.
On Monday, he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkel, who granted Patel’s request to detain Fahti without bond as a danger to the community and a risk to flee. He was taken to the Wyatt Detention Center in Rhode Island.
Fahti, who is represented by Assistant U.S. Public Defender Paul Thomas, made the false statements seeking political asylum while facing deportation to his native Morocco.
He told the undercover agent he went to the library, researched issues in Morocco and learned about abuses allegedly committed by the Moroccan government on individuals involved with the Jamaat Ansar El-Mehdi and the Western Sahara freedom movement.
He falsely claimed in Immigration Court that he was the victim of arrests, imprisonment and beatings by Moroccan police.
“Everything he wrote in his refugee application coincided with the actual events,” Sharp wrote in her affidavit.
In one recording, Fahti says “the more he thinks about the case, he laughs because he cannot believe the judge believed him” in allowing him to seek refuge in the U.S. for political reasons.