The U.S. Secret Service arrested a Libyan national Monday at the Watergate building for threatening to blow up the iconic Washington commercial and residential complex, following a protest at the Libyan embassy.
Secret Service spokesman Max Milien confirmed to The Cable that one man was arrested at the Watergate office building, which houses the Libyan embassy, on the charge of "felony threats" Monday.
The Secret Service declined to give the name of the individual or specify the nature of the threats, but according to an eyewitness account provided to The Cable, the man arrested, a member of a group of Libyan graduate students protesting at the Libyan embassy Monday and Tuesday, was taken into custody after threatening to blow up the building to a member of the property management staff.
The threat came as a group of Libyan graduate students, who were protesting the terms of their academic study in the United States, were being removed from the building by Secret Service. It was not clear if the Libyan arrested actually had any plans or means to carry out an attack on the Watergate building or if the comment was made offhand in anger.
Peter Greenwald, a senior advisor at Penzance, the company in charge of managing the Watergate complex, told The Cable, "This is a matter that is now being handled by the appropriate law enforcement agencies and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further."
Abdelmajeed Ali, a Libyan national and graduate student at the Missouri University of Science and Technology (MS&T) and a leader of the protests, told The Cable he had driven from Missouri to Washington with 30 other MS&T students to call for more Libyan government support to struggling Libyan students in the United States.
"There are many students that have lots of problems regarding the scholarships they got from the government," he said. "Students are struggling to figure out how to survive."
The MS&T students, who were joined by 30 Libyan graduate students from various other universities, tried to protest on the street outside the Watergate building Monday but were told to stop because they didn't have a permit. They then managed to get inside the building and up to the floor that houses the Libyan embassy.
The Secret Service and the State Department sent several personnel to the scene and, according to Ali, the State Department directed the Secret Service to remove the students from the building. As the students were being removed, one of them made the threat and was promptly arrested. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"There was a big crowd and the head of the embassy said we needed to get out of the embassy because it was too crowded," said Ali. "So they decided to kick us out of the embassy by calling the police."
The Libyan ambassador, Ali Aujali, was out of the country but the deputy chief of mission told the students he would communicate their grievances to the government in Tripoli. The students tried again on Tuesday to protest but the embassy was closed, so they drove back to Missouri emptyhanded, student leader Abdelmajeed Ali said.
The Libyan embassy did not respond to requests for comment. The man arrested was taken to the Washington Metropolitan Police Department's 2nd district headquarters, according to the Secret Service. His current whereabouts are unknown.
UPDATE: A Secret Service spokesman tells The Cable the man has been released from custody and faces a Sept. 21 court date.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.