The FBI arrested a California ex-convict early Friday as he allegedly tried to blow up a Bank of America branch in Oakland, hoping to start a civil war.
Matthew Aaron Llaneza, 28, of San Jose, was detained after he tried using a cellphone to detonate an explosives-packed SUV at a BofA branch near the Oakland Airport, the FBI said. Agents had created a dummy bomb, however.
Llaneza was charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction against property used in an activity that affects interstate or foreign commerce. He is being held without bail.
The FBI said that Llaneza had declared his support for the Taliban and that he wanted to engage in violent jihad and conduct a terrorist attack inside the United States. He discussed plans to take a ship to Pakistan after the bombing and then travel to Afghanistan to train fighters, the FBI stated in an affidavit.
In November 2011, Llaneza was released from a state prison after serving a one-year sentence for transportation of an assault weapon — an AK-47 — and possession of a high-capacity magazine.
According to the criminal complaint, Llaneza met Nov. 30 with a man he believed to be connected with the Taliban and the Afghan mujaheddin, but who actually was an undercover FBI agent.
At this initial meeting, Llaneza proposed conducting a car-bomb attack against a bank in the San Francisco Bay Area. 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. Llaneza’s stated goal was to trigger a governmental crackdown, which he expected would trigger a right-wing counter-response against the government followed by, he hoped, civil war.
Llaneza originally targeted the Federal Reserve Bank in downtown San Francisco but rejected it because he figured there would be too much security, FBI Special Agent Christopher Monika wrote. In a Dec. 7 follow-up meeting with the undercover agent, he settled on the BofA branch on Hegenberger Road, “reasoning that the name of the bank and Oakland’s location as a center of protests made it an appropriate target,” the complaint stated.
“He stated he would dance with joy when the bomb exploded,” said Monika, who previously worked as a Pentagon counter-intelligence officer in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Jan. 26, Llaneza and the undercover agent met at a rented storage unit in Hayward, south of Oakland. They loaded the back of the SUV with 12 5-gallon buckets of chemicals the FBI bought to simulate an “explosive mixture.” Llaneza then bought two cellphones, and the FBI made the phony trigger mechanisms.
Llaneza drove the SUV to the bank early Friday, parked it under an overhang and walked a “safe distance,” where he met the undercover agent, the affidavit states. He was arrested after two attempts to trigger the explosion failed.
Llaneza is due back in federal court Wednesday for a bail hearing. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.