A mentally ill man who thought he was meeting someone linked to the Taliban was arrested Friday morning after federal agents say he tried to detonate some sort of car-bomb at a Bank of America branch near Oakland’s airport.
But the explosive was a fake, prosecutors said, adding that the FBI had been eyeing Matthew Aaron Llaneza, 28, of San Jose for a while during an undercover investigation monitored by the FBI’s South Bay Joint Terrorism Task Force.
“He has stated that he supports the Taliban, wants to engage in violent jihad and wants to conduct a terrorist attack inside the United States,” the FBI affadavit said.
LaRae Quy, a former FBI counterintelligence and undercover agent, said the FBI’s ability to gain Llaneza’s trust likely saved lives.
“The undercover agent was able to establish a rapport and real trust so this individual was able to feel comfortable with trusting him with this bigger plan, and even involved him in it,” Quy said. “If that bomb hadn’t been assembled with the FBI’s assistance, it would have gone off and it would have possibly killed someone.”
However, the FBI documents also provide 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. Separate court documents filed in Santa Clara County show Llaneza is mentally ill.
One civil rights expert, Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Santa Clara, indicated that this smells of entrapment.
“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.”
See also “Alleged terrorist had history of mental illness”, NBC Bay Area, 8 February 2013