OAKLAND (CBS SF) – A federal terrorism task force arrested a man they said intended to detonate a car bomb in front of an Oakland bank in the hopes of sparking a civil war by making the bomb blast appear to be the work of anti-government “militias.”
Prosecutors on Friday charged 28-year-old Matthew Aaron Llaneza, of San Jose, with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction against property used in an activity that affects interstate or foreign commerce, for allegedly trying to bomb the Bank of America branch at 303 Hegenberger Road in Oakland.
Llaneza made his initial appearance in federal court in Oakland without entering a plea and remained in custody; he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
The FBI’s South Bay Joint Terrorism Task Force said it had been tracking Llaneza for months and agents arrested him Thursday night as he stood nearby the bank and tried to set off an explosive rigged in an SUV in front of the building with a cellphone detonator.
What Llaneza didn’t realize was that the purported bomb had already been rendered inoperable by an undercover federal agent, posing as a Taliban sympathizer, who worked alongside him during the plot, prosecutors said.
Authorities indicated that Llaneza expressed support for the Taliban and had hoped the bombing would be blamed on anti-government activists and would somehow spark a civil war after a severe government crackdown. The FBI said Llaneza also expressed a desire to travel to Afghanistan to train Taliban fighters.
Court documents show that it was on Nov. 30 when Llaneza first met with the undercover agent — a man he believed to be connected to the Taliban and the mujahidin in Afghanistan. That’s when Llaneza allegedly laid out his plan to car bomb a Bay Area financial institution.
The federal criminal complaint alleged that Llaneza subsequently selected the Bank of America branch at 303 Hegenberger Road in Oakland as the target for the attack and ultimately specified a spot next to a support column of the bank building as a good location for the bomb.
Authorities also alleged that Llaneza 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.
Llaneza and the undercover agent met three more times in December to finalize the plan, according to an affidavit written by FBI agent Christopher Monika. Monika said the FBI rented a storage unit in Hayward and “positioned a sports utility vehicle in it for its use as the delivery vehicle for the car bomb.”
On Jan. 26, the two constructed the “bomb” by pouring chemicals purchased and mixed by the FBI into 12 five-gallon buckets in the rear of the SUV. Llaneza purchased two cellphones, an LED light, nine-volt battery and a “battery snap cap” to construct the device. The undercover agent rigged one of the cellphones to serve as the trigger. The FBI said the device was inert and never in danger of exploding.
The two men met one more time on Feb. 2 to make sure the trigger worked and connected the blasting cap and the trigger to the device.
Llaneza was scheduled to return to courtnext Wednesday for a bail hearing, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. Bay City News & The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)