By Laura L. Myers
SEATTLE (Reuters) - A man accused of plotting to storm a Seattle military recruitment center with machine guns and grenades in retaliation for U.S. military conduct in Afghanistan pleaded guilty on Thursday to conspiracy charges, federal prosecutors said.
Under the terms of his plea deal, Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, 35, faces a prison term of 17 to 19 years when he is sentenced by a federal judge in March, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in statement.
Abdul-Latif, also known as Joseph Anthony Davis, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Seattle to conspiracy to murder officers and employees of the United States and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.
His co-defendant, 33-year-old Walli Mujahidh, pleaded guilty in December 2011 to conspiracy and weapons charges.
The pair, both U.S. citizens, were arrested in June 2011 and indicted the following month on charges of conspiring to attack the Military Entrance Processing Station, where enlistees are screened and processed, south of downtown Seattle.
In his plea agreement, Abdul-Latif admitted that he agreed to carry out the planned attack and made plans for Mujahidh to travel to Seattle from Los Angeles to take part in the assault.
The plot came to light after a person who had known Abdul-Latif for several years and had been asked to supply weapons for the planned attack went to police instead, becoming a paid undercover informant, according to court documents.
The informant told authorities Mujahidh suggested storming the recruitment station "with machine guns and grenades and killing everyone there," the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
The next day, high-powered assault rifles that had been rendered inoperable by law enforcement agents were brought by the informant to the two suspects, who were arrested when they took possession of the guns, prosecutors said.
Abdul-Latif had told the informant, according to an FBI affidavit, that the planned attack was in retaliation for what he said were crimes by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
He also mentioned the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, where an Army psychiatrist is accused of killing 13 people, noting that "if one person could kill so many, three attackers could kill many more," the informant told authorities, according to the original criminal complaint.
FBI special agent in charge of the bureau's Seattle office, Laura Laughlin, credited members of the city's Muslim community for help in bringing Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh to justice.
"Because Seattle's Muslim community was alert to and rejected extremist plotting, a cowardly act of violence was prevented," she said in a statement.
Prosecutors have said the men originally planned to attack Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, the home installation of five U.S. soldiers charged at the time with murdering unarmed Afghan civilians, but then switched their intended target.
Four of the Lewis-McChord soldiers were convicted or pleaded guilty to murder or manslaughter. The fifth case was dismissed.
(Reporting by Laura L. Myers; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)