A San Jose man arrested in an FBI terrorism sting after he allegedly tried to blow up an Oakland bank with an inoperative bomb may need a mental health evaluation, his defense lawyer said Thursday.
Because of that, a federal judge who had scheduled a bail review hearing asked 28-year-old Matthew Llaneza of San Jose to return to court on March 8 to decide what next steps to take.
The FBI alleges that Llaneza tried to detonate a car bomb in front of a Bank of America branch in Oakland last week.
The FBI had built the dummy bomb after he allegedly made contact with an undercover agent who pretended to have connections with the Taliban.
The FBI says the agent provided the SUV and all materials used to construct the inactive bomb after Llaneza expressed a desire to spark a civil war in the United States and then join the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Civil rights activists and others questioned the FBI tactics in setting up the sting with Llaneza, who appears to have mental health issues, according to court documents connected to a previous state court case.
He pleaded guilty in 2011 to illegally transporting an assault rifle. He was arrested after his father called 9-1-1 to report that his son was drunk and threatening to kill himself. His father told police then that he was "deeply concerned'' about his son's mental state. The father told police Llaneza had recently converted to Islam.
On Thursday, Zahra Billoo, director of the San Francisco chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, questioned whether the FBI turned a mentally ill "aspirational'' terrorist into an "operational one'' by supplying him with all the material and urging him on.
Billoo said the FBI has made several other high-profile arrests in the last few years using a similar sting operation where undercover agents provide material and expertise to an unwitting suspect who espouses anti-American rhetoric and a desire to become a terrorist.
"There are a number of common threads,'' Billoo said. U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Dean Boyd declined to discuss the Llaneza case.
He said federal authorities follow ``strict guidelines'' when carrying out sting operations and many such arrests have resulted in guilty pleas and convictions "As a general matter, when an individual concocts a plan to commit violence and is determined to follow through law enforcement has an obligation to take action to protect the public,'' Boyd said.
"Allowing individuals intent on committing violence to proceed without a response is not an option, given that they may take action on their own or find others willing to assist them.''