Terror suspect pleads guilty to planning to kill U.S. servicemen and women in an attack on a Seattle military processing station.

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A Seattle man accused of planning to attack a U.S. military processing station pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to kill government employees in a plea deal that spares him a potential life sentence and rescues federal prosecutors from a case that hinged on an informant whose credibility was under fire by the defense and under scrutiny by the court.

The plea agreement will guarantee that the 35-year-old Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, also known as Joseph Anthony Davis, will serve 17 to 19 years in prison for his plan to attack the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) on East Marginal Way in Seattle with small-arms and grenades in the summer of 2011.

He and a co-defendant, Walli Mujahidh, had arranged to purchase the weapons through a confidential informant who had brought the conspiracy to the attention of a Seattle police detective, according to the charges.

Mujahidh already pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charges and an additional count of unlawful possession of a firearm. Mujahidh, also known as Frederick Dominque, is to be sentenced in January.

U.S. District Judge James Robart set sentencing of Abdul-Latif for March 25.

“This defendant plotted to kill American servicemen and women, and other innocent people in furtherance of his extremist views,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan in a prepared statement. “The continued vigilance of the community and the work of law enforcement ensured that we were able to successfully disrupt this deadly plan.”

Abdul-Latif, a prison convert to Islam, was recorded by the confidential informant as saying his motivation for the attack was his opposition to the U.S. military presence in Muslim countries and he hoped it would inspire other radical Muslims in America to rise up, according to the indictment.

The charges allege that Abdul-Latif, Mujahidh and the informant met several times and planned the attack around the July 4, 2011, holiday. They were arrested just days before the planned attack in a warehouse when the weapons — which had been deactivated by federal agents — changed hands.

A charge of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction stems from their plans to use grenades in the attack.

The government’s case relied heavily on the informant, who has never been identified by name.

According to defense documents, the informant is a convicted child molester and two-time rapist who has twice failed to register as a sex offender. He has been paid more than $90,000 by the government for his services so far.

As recently as April 2012, he was found in violation for failing to report contact with children to his community custody officer, the documents say.

As the case approached a scheduled trial this spring, Abdul-Latif’s attorneys learned that the informant had deleted more than 400 text messages and recordings from his phone during the investigation, despite explicit instructions from federal prosecutors and FBI agents to save the material, some of which included conversations with Abdul-Latif.

After a hearing two weeks ago, Judge Robart left open the possibility that both federal prosecutors in the case might have to step down from the case to testify for the defense about those instructions.

The informant has said he wiped his phone’s memory and deleted hundreds of messages to hide evidence that he was in violation of community release as a registered sex offender, according to the documents. The defense has argued that the court will never know what was deleted, and that some of it may have been helpful to Abdul-Latif’s defense. The court was considering a motion to dismiss the indictment.

The informant secretly recorded hundreds of hours of conversations with Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh in which they planned to use assault rifles and grenades to storm the MEPS, hoping to inspire other attacks by Muslims living in the United States. They had gone so far as to learn the layout of the MEPS, which contained a cafeteria, and had talked about killing an armed guard when they burst into the building.

“We’re not only trying to kill people,” Abdul-Latif is quoted as saying during one conversation. “We’re trying to get something that’s going to be on CNN and all over the world.”

Abdul-Latif also had posted a number of inflammatory sermons and speeches on YouTube and elsewhere. He recruited Mujahidh, a mentally disturbed felon from Los Angeles, to help in the attack.

“Imagine how fearful America will be, and they’ll know they can’t push the Muslims around,” he told the informant.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com