In a case eerily reminiscent of the 1995 domestic terrorism attack that claimed 168 lives, authorities announced Monday that they have arrested a man who planned to detonate an explosives-filled van outside of an Oklahoma City bank.
23-year-old Jerry Varnell faces one count of attempted destruction of a building in interstate commerce – a charge that carries a 20-year prison sentence – for plotting to set off an enormous explosion outside BancFirst, KOCO-TV reported.
“He wanted to replicate the Oklahoma City bomb,” FBI assistant special agent in charge Raul Bujanda said Monday during a news conference.
According to a federal complaint filed on Sunday, Varnell was unhappy with the U.S. government and wanted to carry out a domestic terrorist attack. He initially targeted the Federal Reserve Building in Washington in a sick homage to the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which killed 149 adults and 19 children.
However, law enforcement got wind of his plot and instead put him in contact with an undercover FBI agent posing as a person who could assist him. Varnell set his sights on BancFirst, helped the undercover agent assemble the fake device and load it into what he thought was a stolen van, and drove the vehicle to downtown Oklahoma.
When Varnell dialed a number on his cellphone that he thought would detonate the van, he instead sealed his fate and was taken into custody. If convicted, Varnell faces a mandatory minimum sentencing of five years’ imprisonment and a maximum of two decades behind bars.
At no point did Varnell, who had been closely monitored for months, ever pose a danger to the public in relation to the foiled bomb plot.
“There was never a concern that our community’s safety or security was at risk during this investigation,” said Kathryn Peterson, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oklahoma. “I can assure the public, without hesitation, that we had Varnell’s actions monitored every step of the way.”