EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — An Army veteran arrested after a seven-hour standoff was charged Wednesday with threatening to kill President Barack Obama as part of what authorities said was his plan to ignite a war between Muslims and Christians and "start an apocalypse."
Federal agents arrested Roman Otto Conaway, 50, when he surrendered early Wednesday at his home after the confrontation, in which he insisted a bulky belt he wore and three storage containers on his Fairview Heights property were packed with explosives.
The FBI and the criminal complaint say the belt turned out to carry only inert putty-like material – similar to children's molding clay – made to look like high-grade explosives, with wires attached to a curling iron Conaway claimed was a triggering device. Nothing dangerous was found in the storage drums.
Conaway was in custody and was scheduled to appear in federal court on Thursday on one count apiece of making a threat against the president and making false threats to detonate an explosive device. Bond was not immediately set.
Online court records did not show whether he had an attorney. Conaway has an unlisted telephone number, and his family did not immediately respond to written interview requests.
Conaway's wife told St. Louis' KMOV-TV that she and her husband raised their three grandchildren – ages 7 and 2 years, and 8 months – for several years before the children's father recently regained custody, frustrating Conaway. On Tuesday, Conaway's daughter told KMOV, she got a two-year protection order against her father after he threatened to kill her.
In the criminal complaint, FBI Special Agent Richard Box alleged that on Tuesday afternoon, someone at a St. Louis-area mosque informed the FBI that a caller identifying himself as "Roman" threatened to burn a copy of the Quran and videotape it for distribution to three television stations.
The caller also pledged to "start a war between Christians and Muslims," "kill President Obama and other government officials to start a war," end the military conflict in Afghanistan and ensure North Korean leader Kim Jong Il would "have some pain and cry," Box wrote.
"I want to start an apocalypse," Box alleged the caller also said in the call to the mosque, perhaps unaware his telephone number had appeared on the mosque's caller ID and ultimately was conveyed to the FBI and Secret Service. The number was Conaway's, Box wrote.
When federal agents went to question Conaway at his home, the man initially slammed the door to the investigators and ordered them away before emerging right away with his wife and son – a wide, meshy belt with what appeared to be explosives strapped around his waist, according to Box.
Warning that he had Army experience with explosive devices, Conaway threatened to kill himself and blow up the neighborhood, along with the agents negotiating with him, Box wrote. The neighborhood was evacuated.
The man's wife and son stayed with Conaway, who was not armed with guns, during the confrontation but apparently were not held against their will, FBI Special Agent Stu McArthur later told reporters. Authorities who arrested Conaway shortly after he released the two honored their pledge to take him to a mental hospital rather than jail, Box wrote.
When questioned later, according to Box, Conaway admitted calling the mosque and "making a number of statements" alleged by the call's recipient, though he denied threatening Obama. Box said Conaway confessed to wanting to burn the Quran "in order to incite conflict with Muslims" and "threatened to kill the cops today because he didn't care if he would die."
Conaway explained he carried out the bomb ploy because he is "anti-government" and, just hours before he called the mosque, was barred by a judge from having contact with his grandchildren, Box wrote.
Conaway is an Army veteran, though other details about his military background were not immediately accessible Wednesday, according to Ray Gall, a spokesman for the Army Human Resources Command.