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Published June 17, 2011, 08:26 AM

Marine Reservist in Custody After Pentagon Scare

A Marine Corps reservist carrying a backpack containing what authorities said were suspicious materials briefly fled police Friday before he was detained in the middle of the night near the Pentagon.

By: Eric Tucker, Eileen Sullivan, Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — A Marine Corps reservist carrying a backpack containing what authorities said were suspicious materials briefly fled police Friday before he was detained in the middle of the night near the Pentagon.

Yonathan Melaku, 22, of Alexandria, Va., was discovered after 1 a.m. Friday inside Arlington National Cemetery, hours after it had closed. He was detained for trespassing after becoming uncooperative, authorities said, though he has not yet been charged with anything. Authorities believe Melaku acted alone.

Investigators in protective white suits and bomb-sniffing dogs were going through his brick town-home in suburban Washington and removing evidence. Melaku is a naturalized citizen originally from Ethiopia.

Nothing suspicious was found in Melaku's car, a red 2011 Nissan that was parked in bushes near a Pentagon parking lot, authorities said, but they became alarmed by several items in his backpack.

Melaku had a bag with a substance that appeared to have contained a couple pounds of ammonium nitrate, a chemical compound widely used in fertilizers and can be used in explosives with the correct concentration, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the investigation.

The official said there was nothing else in the bag that could have contributed to an explosion.

The FBI said the items were non-explosive, but were undergoing further testing at the laboratory in Quantico.

Melaku joined the Marine Corps Reserves in September 2007 and is currently listed as a lance corporal and motor vehicle operator, according to the FBI. He has not been deployed overseas. He has received the National Defense Service Medal and the Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal.

Neighbors said they had seen Melaku and his father occasionally driving taxicabs but did not know them well and never saw anything unusual.

Marion Randolph, who lives down the street, was not overly concerned about the police activity Friday, but said, "It's still unnerving to have an individual like this in your neighborhood."

Melaku was arrested last month in Leesburg, Va., on grand larceny charges, accused of damaging a series of cars and stealing items. His attorney in that case did not return a call seeking comment Friday.

The investigation snarled rush hour traffic Friday as police closed off roads around the Pentagon.

In another incident earlier this week, a motorist found with a gun and what appeared to be a suspicious package near the Pentagon was taken into custody.

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Sullivan reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Matthew Barakat, Karen Mahabir, Lolita Baldor and Jessica Gresko contributed to this report.

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