A San Jose man pleaded not guilty in federal court today to a charge alleging that he attempted to detonate a car bomb at an Oakland bank last month in order to spark a civil war. Matthew Aaron Llaneza, 28, is charged with the 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 a Bank of America branch at 303 Hegenberger Road on Feb. 8. The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a criminal complaint against Llaneza on Feb. 8, but on Thursday a federal grand jury issued an indictment against him on the same charge that replaces the complaint.
Defense attorney Jerome Matthews told Magistrate Judge Kandis Westmore at a brief hearing today that Llaneza has “significant mental illness” but is still competent to stand trial. Llaneza, who has black curly hair and a goatee and wore a red jail jumpsuit at his hearing, is scheduled to return to court on April 11 for a pretrial hearing. If he is convicted, Llaneza faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said authorities arrested Llaneza as he was preparing to bomb the Bank of America office. They said his arrest was the culmination of an undercover operation during which Llaneza was closely monitored by the FBI’s South Bay Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Prosecutors said Llaneza didn’t realize that the explosive device that he allegedly attempted to use had been rendered inoperable by law enforcement and posed no threat to the public. According to the affidavit filed with the criminal complaint, on Nov. 30 Llaneza met with a man who led him to believe he was connected with the Taliban and the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, although in reality the man was an undercover FBI agent. At the initial meeting, Llaneza proposed conducting a car bomb attack against a bank in the Bay Area, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Authorities said Llaneza 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. They said 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.
Prosecutors allege that Llaneza subsequently selected the Bank of America branch at 303 Hegenberger Road 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. Once he was there, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Llaneza attempted to detonate the bomb by using a cellphone he had bought to place two calls to the trigger device attached to the car bomb. Federal agents then arrested him.
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