Some civil rights groups are questioning the tactics of a mentally ill San Jose man arrested on Friday in alleged bomb plot of an Oakland bank.
Matthew Llaneza, 28, returns to federal court Thursday for a bail hearing after the FBI took him into custody on Friday in a monthslong undercover sting where he was handed fake bomb making materials and arrested outside the Bank of America on Hegenberger Road as he was allegedly poised to set the device off. According to court records, Llaneza suffers from mental illness, is paranoid and is a Muslim convert who became a "jidhadist."
His federal public defender has declined comment.
Mike German, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in San Francisco told NBC Bay Area on Tuesday that it doesn't feel right when an agency suggests a plot and then helps see it through. He said it feels more like a "theatrical prodcuction."
His comments echo what, Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Santa Clara, has previously said.
"Did the FBI take a [mentally ill] aspirational terrorist, make him an operational terrorist and then thwart their own plot?" Billoo asked. "CAIR has been saying this for years now: It's the FBI's job to stop operational terrorists. It's not the FBI's job to enable aspirational ones."
The FBI documents provided no evidence that Llaneza could have pulled off the operation without the undercover agents, had ties to other terrorists or had any bomb making materials in his possession.
- Read Matthew Llaneza Criminal Complaint (pdf)
- Court Docs Show Suspect Suffered from Mental Illness
- Read Probation Report on Llaneza (pdf)
But according to the FBI affadavits, Llaneza was ready and willing to engage ina civil war against America.
According to the federal affidavit, Llaneza met with a man on Nov. 30 who led him to believe he was connected with the Taliban and the mujahidin in Afghanistan. The man was really an undercover FBI agent.
At the meeting, Llaneza proposed conducting a car-bomb attack against a bank in the San Francisco Bay Area, the complaint alleges. He proposed structuring the attack to make it appear that the responsible party was an umbrella organization for a loose collection of anti-government militias and their sympathizers, according to prosecutors.
Llaneza’s stated goal was to trigger a governmental crackdown, prosecutors said, which he expected would trigger a right-wing counter-response against the government followed by, he hoped, civil war.
Llaneza identified the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco as a good target, the affadavit states, or a local bank as good targets for the attack.
After figuring the Federal Reserve would have "too much security," on Dec. 7, Llaneza ended up choosing the Bank of America branch at 303 Hegenberger Road in Oakland as the target for the attack, the complaint states. That bank is near the city's airport.
A week later, Llaneza found a spot next to a support column of the bank building as a good location for the bomb, expressed a desire for the bomb to bring down the entire bank building, and offered to drive the car bomb to the bank at the time of the attack, prosecutors alleged in a statement.
According to the complaint, in January and February, Llaneza and the undercover agent constructed the fake explosive device inside an SUV parked inside a storage facility in Hayward.
As part of the process of assembling the device, Llaneza allegedly bought two cell phones to be used in creating and operating the trigger device for the car bomb. One of these cell phones was incorporated into the trigger device itself. The other was reserved for use on the night of the attack.
The criminal complaint alleges that on Thursday evening, Llaneza drove the SUV containing the purported explosive device to the target bank branch in Oakland.
He parked the SUV beneath an overhang of the bank building where he armed the trigger device, according to the complaint.
He then allegedly proceeded on foot to a nearby location a safe distance from the bank building, where he met the undercover agent. Once there, prosecutors Llaneza allegedly attempted to detonate the bomb by using the second cell phone he had purchased to place two calls to the trigger device attached to the car bomb, according to prosecutors.
That's when the FBI placed him under arrest.
German, from the ACLU, doesn't know if Llaneza is guilty or not. But he did say that when the FBI helps set up a crime, there is usually "far more damage that they ever could have done on their own."