Georgia man accused of plotting to attack White House denied bond

Hasher Taheb has been in federal custody since the FBI searched his Forsyth County home last week.

A federal judge in Atlanta on Thursday denied bond to a 21-year-old Forsyth County man accused of plotting to attack the White House by blasting a hole into the building and then killing people inside.

U.S. Magistrate Alan Baverman brushed aside defense arguments that the FBI may have encouraged Hasher Jallel Taheb to expand his “fantastical” talk into a planned and coordinated terrorist attack.

“The evidence demonstrates (that Taheb) is not a mere mope or a stooge,” Baverman said. “… He basically wanted to create havoc and mayhem and harm as many people as possible.”

The bespectacled, black-haired and full-bearded Taheb entered the courtroom shackled and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. As he was led out after being denied bond, his mother, who sat behind him in the gallery, openly sobbed.

During the hearing, federal public defenders Vionnette Johnson and Brian Mendelsohn suggested that Taheb had been led on during the undercover FBI investigation.

Taheb was living at home with his mother and earning just $8.15 an hour at a car wash, Johnson said. The Forsyth Central High School graduate had never owned a gun and didn’t even know how to shoot one, she 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.”

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Buchanan disagreed.

He disclosed that Taheb had unsuccessfully tried to recruit two other, unidentified individuals to help carry out his plan. On Jan. 16, the day Taheb was arrested after exchanging his car for what he believed was an arsenal of weaponry, he planned to drive to Washington to attack the White House, Buchanan said.

“He’s been charged with a serious offense that poses great danger to the United States,” Buchanan said. The weapons Taheb acquired “were designed to carry out the act he created.”

Two images of Hasher Jallal Taheb.

Credit: WSB-TV

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Credit: WSB-TV

Taheb had brought backpacks to the parking lot where the exchange was made. He then stuffed bombs into them and placed them in a rental car he believed would take him to the nation’s capital.

A criminal complaint filed last week said Taheb believed he was planning the attack with two men he'd recruited to help him. Instead, one was an undercover FBI agent, the other was a confidential informant to the bureau.

According to a criminal complaint, the FBI had been warned of Taheb’s “radicalization” last March. In August, when he put his car up for sale, an FBI informant reached out to Taheb and expressed an interest in buying the vehicle.

As their conversations continued, Taheb then disclosed he wanted to attack the White House, the Statue of Liberty and other landmarks and die as a martyr doing so, the complaint said. The undercover FBI agent then became involved and Taheb apparently believed he had now assembled a team to help him obtain weapons to carry out the attacks, the complaint said.

During one meeting, Taheb pulled out a composition notebook with detailed drawings of the White House, listing particular rooms throughout the building, the complaint said. He said he wanted to drive by the White House, create a diversion and then blast a hole into the building and kill people inside, the complaint said.

After continued discussions and planning, the case culminated on Jan. 16 in the parking lot of a Lowe’s home improvement store, according to testimony. An undercover FBI official arrived at the lot driving a trailer to take Taheb’s car in exchange for the weaponry, and another truck arrived with the weaponry, the complaint said. After being given the weapons and explosives, which the FBI had already rendered useless, an undercover agent quickly instructed Taheb in how to use them, the complaint said.

But Mendelsohn, one of Taheb’s federal defenders, said it is the defense’s view “that the government took somebody who was talking and expanded him.” The agents “ingratiated themselves into Mr. Taheb’s life to lead him down that path.”

Johnson, Taheb’s other defender, asked Baverman to allow Taheb to be released from custody but held in a lock-down at his mother’s home.

But Baverman said he wasn’t assured that Taheb did not pose a danger to the community.

“He’s extremely gullible and susceptible to fantastical plans which make him a danger,” the judge said. “Or he’s a mastermind of what could have been a very devastating situation.”