UNITED STATES NEWS

Judge orders release of man who was accused of plotting ISIS-inspired truck attacks near Washington

Oct 23, 2023, 11:15 AM | Updated: 11:56 am

GREENBELT, Md. (AP) — A federal judge on Monday ordered the release of a Maryland man who has been imprisoned for more than four years on charges that he plotted Islamic State-inspired attacks at an airport and at a shopping and entertainment complex in the Washington, D.C., area.

Rondell Henry, 32, of Germantown, Maryland, pleaded guilty in August to attempting to perform an act of violence at Dulles International Airport in Virginia. U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis agreed to sentence Henry to the jail time that he already has served since his March 2019 arrest.

Accepting terms recommended by both prosecutors and defense attorneys, the judge also sentenced Henry to lifetime supervised release with mandatory participation in a mental health treatment program.

“It’s an unusual resolution for a highly unusual case,” Xinis said.

Henry, then 28, abandoned his plan to plow a stolen U-Haul van into pedestrians at the airport because he didn’t think the early-morning crowd was large enough, prosecutors said. Police arrested Henry after he parked the truck at National Harbor, a popular waterfront destination in Maryland just outside the nation’s capital.

Henry didn’t harm anybody at either location, but a prosecutor has said that he intended to kill as many “disbelievers” as possible. Henry’s plans were inspired by the July 2016 truck attack by an Islamic State sympathizer who killed 86 people and injured hundreds of others celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France, according to prosecutors.

Henry’s case remained in limbo for years amid questions about his mental competency. Last year, his attorneys notified the court that he intended to pursue an insanity defense.

Henry ultimately agreed to plead guilty to a felony that carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. But prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed that an appropriate sentence for Henry would be time served and lifetime supervised release with mandatory mental health treatment and compliance with prescribed medication.

“This had the potential to cause mass death, mass casualties, as well as widespread fear,” said a prosecutor, Jessica Collins.

Defense attorney Ned Smock said after the hearing that he doesn’t know how long it will take for Henry to be released from custody.

“This is by no means a lenient outcome,” said Smock, an assistant federal public defender. “Everybody is on board with the idea that this is an appropriate sentence.”

Henry told the judge that he feels “much better” and is committed to getting the mental health treatment that he needs. He said he is looking forward to being reunited with his family, including his mother, stepfather and sister.

“This is the most important thing to me,” he added.

Several months before his arrest, Henry began experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia and having delusional and paranoid thoughts, according to his attorneys. They say he now takes daily medication to treat his mental health condition and hasn’t been experiencing any delusional thoughts or hallucinations.

“His family is thrilled to report that he is himself again,” his lawyers wrote. “He is anxious to return to work, his family, and the law-abiding life he was leading before his mental health deteriorated.”

Henry admits that he stole a U-Haul van from a parking garage in Alexandria, Virginia, and drove it around the Washington area overnight. On the morning of March 27, 2019, he drove it to Dulles airport.

Henry later told investigators that he went to the airport because he “was trying to hurt people there” and “was going to try to drive through a crowd of people” but left because “there wasn’t a big enough crowd” at the airport, according to prosecutors.

“Henry instead entered the terminal building, where he attempted to tail another individual into a restricted area of the airport but was prevented from doing so,” prosecutors wrote.

Henry left the airport and drove to National Harbor, where he parked the van and slept on somebody else’s private boat. Police arrested him the next morning after they found the vehicle and saw Henry jump over a security fence.

Henry was charged in 2019 with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, the Islamic State group. His lawyers say the evidence doesn’t show that Henry was “acting to support an extremist organization.”

Prosecutors have said Henry watched Islamic State group propaganda videos of foreign terrorists beheading civilians. His phones contained images of the ISIS flag, the October 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the man who carried out the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida.

Henry had discarded one of his phones on a Maryland interstate in an apparent attempt to destroy evidence.

Xinis ruled in February 2020 that Henry was not competent to stand trial. She repeatedly extended his court-ordered hospitalization.

But the judge ruled in May 2022 that Henry had become mentally competent to stand trial, could understand the charges against him and was capable of assisting in his defense.

Henry is a naturalized U.S. citizen who moved to the country from Trinidad and Tobago when he was a teenager. He worked as an IT service desk technician.

His attorneys said sentencing him to time served — over four years and six months — “is by no means lenient” considering his lack of criminal record and the hardships of being jailed during the COVID-19 pandemic and transferred between prison facilities.

“Mr. Henry was not a threat to the public prior to this episode and he will never again pose any threat now that he is connected with services that will provide the treatment and medication that he needs,” they wrote.

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Judge orders release of man who was accused of plotting ISIS-inspired truck attacks near Washington