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US Charges 2 Suspects in Chemical Attack on Capitol Officer Who Later Died

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FILE - Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington.

The U.S. Justice Department on Monday charged two men with pepper-spraying three Capitol Police officers, one of whom later died, during the January 6 assault on Congress by supporters of former President Donald Trump trying to overturn his election defeat.

Julian Elie Khater and George Pierre Tanios are facing multiple counts, including assaulting police with a deadly weapon, after investigators said they sprayed at least three officers with an unidentified, but powerful, chemical agent.

One of those officers, Brian Sicknick, was later rushed to a hospital and died the next day.

FILE - A photo of U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick is seen during a memorial ceremony, at the Capitol, in Washington, Feb. 3, 2021.
FILE - A photo of U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick is seen during a memorial ceremony, at the Capitol, in Washington, Feb. 3, 2021.

Khater and Tanios are not charged with killing Sicknick, whose cause of death remains unclear. A law enforcement source familiar with the matter said it is still too early in the investigation to know if Tanios or Khater directly bear any responsibility for Sicknick's death.

According to the complaint, the FBI said the two men "appeared to time the deployment of chemical substances to coincide with other rioters’ efforts to forcibly remove the bike rack barriers that were preventing the rioters from moving closer to the Capitol building."

U.S. Capitol Police Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman said in a statement Monday that the attack on the Capitol and its police officers, including Sicknick, was "an attack on our democracy," and said "those who perpetrated these heinous crimes must be held accountable."

FILE - Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman pays respects to U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Feb. 2, 2021.
FILE - Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman pays respects to U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Feb. 2, 2021.

She said a multijurisdictional investigation into Sicknick's death is ongoing and that the force will provide further comment on the matter when it is complete.

Khater, 32, of State College, Pennsylvania, was arrested as he disembarked from an airplane at Newark Airport in New Jersey. Tanios, 39, of Morgantown, West Virginia, was arrested at his residence in West Virginia. The two men grew up together in New Jersey, according to the criminal complaint.

The FBI found Khater after a receiving a tip from a coworker.

Tanios, meanwhile, operates a sandwich shop in Morgantown, West Virginia. According to multiple reviews of his business posted on Google, he was a staunch Trump supporter who also opposed wearing masks to protect against COVID-19.

George Pierre Tanios stands for a booking photograph released by the West Virginia Regional Jail & Correctional Facility Authority, March 14, 2021.
George Pierre Tanios stands for a booking photograph released by the West Virginia Regional Jail & Correctional Facility Authority, March 14, 2021.

He filed for bankruptcy in 2020, court records show, and owed more than $178,000 in taxes to the IRS and more than $225,000 in taxes to West Virginia.

The FBI said it identified Tanios through witnesses who recognized his photo, including a former business partner who also said Tanios was embroiled in a legal dispute amid allegations he had embezzled $435,000 in a prior business venture. Details about the litigation, which is still pending, were not immediately available.

In video footage from January 6, investigators say Khater walked toward Tanios and said, "Give me that bear" spray and reached into a backpack Tanios was carrying. Tanios then replied: "Hold on, hold on. Not yet, not yet. … It's still early."

The complaint said the officers were temporarily blinded and disabled by the substance and "needed medical attention and assistance from fellow officers."

A federal magistrate judge in West Virginia ordered that Tanios be held in custody, pending an upcoming detention hearing that could occur as soon as Thursday.

A magistrate judge in New Jersey also ordered Khater to be temporarily detained pending a detention hearing, though the timing of the hearing was not clear.

Tanios and Khater are not expected to enter pleas until they are arraigned at a future date.

More than 300 people have been charged in connection with riots at the U.S. Capitol. Five people, including Sicknick, died in connection with the deadly attack.

In court filings last week, the Justice Department revealed it intends to file charges against more than 100 additional defendants, in what it described as the most complex investigation it has ever handled.

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