OKLAHOMA CITY – Federal officials say that a 23-year-old Oklahoma man has been arrested after allegedly planning to blow up a bomb in downtown Oklahoma City.
According to a criminal complaint, the FBI arrested 23-year-old Jerry Drake Varnell at 1 a.m. on Aug. 12 after he allegedly attempted to detonate what he believed to be an explosives-laden van he had parked in an alley next to BancFirst in downtown Oklahoma City.
The complaint alleges that Varnell initially wanted to blow up the Federal Reserve Building in Washington, D.C. with a device that was similar to the one used in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Court documents claim that Varnell was upset with the government, and his plans got the attention of law enforcement.
An undercover FBI agent posed as a person who could help him with the bombing.
According to the complaint, Varnell identified BancFirst as the target, helped assemble the device, loaded it into a van and drove it to the alley by the bank.
In fact, officials say that Varnell even dialed a number on a cell phone that he believed would trigger the explosion. Authorities say they also found a statement that he planned to post to social media after the explosion.
However, officials say that the device was actually inert and the public was not in any danger.
“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.”
Varnell is charged with attempting to use explosives to destroy a building in interstate commerce.
“I commend the devoted work of the FBI and our state law enforcement partners in ensuring that violent plots of this kind never succeed,” said Mark A. Yancey, United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma.
If convicted, he would face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.
He is expected to make his initial appearance in an Oklahoma City courtroom on Monday around 3 p.m.
BancFirst released the following statement after Varnell’s arrest:
“BancFirst has been working cooperatively with the FBI. At no time were employees, customers or the general public ever in any danger. We believe our BancFirst downtown Oklahoma City building was a random and convenient selection by the suspect. There is no further threat or reason for concern. We take comfort and our company embraces a deep appreciation and admiration for the men and women of the FBI for their diligent and dedicated work in protecting our nation.”
U.S. Sen. James Lankford, who served on the Intelligence Committee and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, issued the following statement:
“I applaud the work of the FBI and local law enforcement for investigating and apprehending a man who sought to commit a terrorist act in Oklahoma City. Our intelligence community and law enforcement work every day to protect our neighborhoods from attacks and terror, and they often do it without the public ever knowing. It is chilling to think that a sympathizer of Timothy McVeigh would want to act on hate, as a tribute to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil before September 11. We’re thankful for the concerned citizens that stepped forward to alert authorities about this man. This is another somber reminder that, as a nation, we must remain vigilant about home-grown extremism and radicalization in our communities.”