LOS ANGELES – The head of a radical Islamic prison gang and three others were indicted Wednesday on federal charges of planning terrorist attacks against U.S. military facilities, the Israeli Consulate and other Los Angeles-area targets.
The four conspired to wage war against the U.S. government through terrorism, kill armed service members and murder foreign officials, among other charges, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors contend the plot was orchestrated by Washington, Patterson and Samana at the behest of James, an inmate at the California State Prison-Sacramento who founded the radical group Jamiyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (search).
According to the indictment, Washington pledged his loyalty to James "until death by martyrdom" and sought to establish a JIS cell outside prison with members with bomb expertise.
Washington, Patterson and Samana — who attended the same Inglewood mosque — allegedly conducted surveillance of military facilities, the Israeli Consulate and synagogues in the Los Angeles area as well as Internet research on Jewish holidays. Law enforcement officials have previously said that the military facilities included National Guard sites, though the indictment does not specify.
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (search), in announcing the charges in Washington, D.C., referred to the London mass transit attacks in July.
"Some in this country mistakenly believed it could not happen here. Today we have chilling evidence that it is possible," he said.
The attacks were to be carried out with firearms and other weapons at synagogues during Jewish holidays "to maximize the number of casualties," authorities said. Patterson allegedly bought a .223-caliber rifle in July.
In Los Angeles, authorities said the suspects could have attacked as soon as the Yom Kippur Jewish holiday in October.
"Make no mistake about it — we dodged a bullet here, perhaps many bullets," Los Angeles police Chief William Bratton said at a news conference.
"We have a tendency to think of terrorism as (foreign born)," added U.S. Attorney Debra Yang. "And this is a very stark reminder that it can be ... local and homegrown."
To finance the attacks, prosecutors said, Washington, Patterson and Samana robbed a string of gas stations in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
The case arose after Washington and Patterson were arrested July 5 by police in Torrance, a suburb southwest of Los Angeles, for investigation of robbing the gas stations.
Counterterrorism officials began investigating after police who searched Washington's apartment in the robbery case said they found a list of possible terrorism targets. Samana, a student originally from Pakistan who lived in Inglewood, was taken into federal custody Aug. 2.
Attorney Winston McKesson, who represents Patterson, said his client asked him not to comment on the case. "He will allow the matter to be resolved in court," McKesson said.
Attorneys representing Washington and Samana did not immediately return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
James — known as Shakyh Shahaab Murshid, among other aliases — founded JIS in 1997 while imprisoned for an attempted-robbery conviction in Los Angeles County, prosecutors said. He preached that the duty of JIS members was to attack enemies of Islam.
Washington was paroled in November 2004, around the time authorities say he joined James' group.
James then instructed Washington to recruit five members with felony convictions and train them to conduct covert operations; acquire firearms with silencers; and appoint a group member to help produce remotely activated explosives, prosecutors claim.
The FBI recently ordered its agents nationwide to conduct "threat assessments" of inmates who may have become radicalized in prison and could commit extremist violence upon their release.
The defendants face life in prison if convicted of conspiring to kill uniformed members of the U.S. military. Another count the men face, seditious conspiracy, has not been widely used in terrorism cases.
Typically, defendants in post-9/11 cases in the United States have been charged with providing material support to terrorist groups. There was no such group identified in this case.