Two men detained in Fairfax County this week may be linked to a possible terror plot targeting Washington-area malls and rail hubs, authorities said Thursday.
Viral videos of the two men, produced by local authorities, show them boarding a red bus in Alexandria. The pair were originally taken into custody late Tuesday night for a DUI-related traffic violation, but investigators say they’re looking into the possibility that they planned to take a bus to Washington and take a tram to the Mall of America.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority officials said Thursday that they’re prepared to deal with an attack at one of the area’s transit hubs.
“We are working closely with Metro Police and the FBI, and to ensure our customers have the right safety measures in place,” spokesman Dan Stessel said in a statement. “We will conduct random patrols at all of our transit stations and purchase extra, explosive-detecting ball bearings to carry aboard our trains in the event of a real threat.”
Besides doubling up on security around malls and transit hubs, Arlington County Police announced Thursday that they’ll be stepping up police presence around various community centers, including soccer fields, parks and church grounds. In addition, police in Fairfax County said they’ll be providing additional foot patrols near their major shopping centers during the warm-weather months.
There was no indication that the men were responsible for a large-scale attack. Fairfax County’s assistant director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Rachel Kersey, called them “suspected terrorists,” but said that they were being investigated for the last few weeks and were “suspected of some sort of terrorism, of one sort or another.”
The FBI and Metropolitan Police Department would not comment on what could be the men’s motivation for plotting such an attack. Federal authorities have also declined to comment on whether they’re also looking into whether or not the men had ever been on any of the region’s commuter lines.
In this video, one of the men explains to an undercover police officer that they traveled on a bus to Alexandria and were denied entry to the transit authority’s bus depot because they are Muslims.
The men were arrested late Tuesday night after they arrived at the transit authority’s Bus Depot near the Pentagon City Metro station. After police officers found a backpack in their possession, they arrested the two men, aged 26 and 20. The second man did not have a backpack and was simply acting as a passenger on the bus, officials said.
During the arrest, a bomb-sniffing dog searched their bag and alerted officers that something appeared to be in the bag. Law enforcement found an explosive device inside the bag — and two “explosive material” inside the bus seat. As a precaution, the bus was taken to the Metro Police station.
Officers executed a search warrant on the bus that turned up additional items, including an alchemical lab and a “high quantity” of ingredients for making bombs, the sheriff’s office said. The school-age children, who reportedly were riding on the bus at the time of the search, were not hurt.
Both men remain in Fairfax County’s Adult Detention Center on $350,000 bond.
Stessel, of WMATA, urged the public to be aware of their surroundings and follow their rail and bus announcements.
Northern Virginia Community News contributed to this report.