LOS ANGELES – Two men accused of plotting behind prison walls to launch attacks on military sites, synagogues and other targets in 2005 pleaded guilty Friday to conspiring to wage war against the United States.
Kevin James, 31, and Levar Haley Washington, 28, both pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy charges. Washington also pleaded guilty to using a firearm to further that conspiracy.
Authorities say James, Washington and two others were part of a California prison gang cell of radical Muslims planning attacks in the Los Angeles area. Prosecutors say James even had a press release prepared to send out after an attack.
"This incident is the first in a series of incidents to come in a plight to defend and propagate traditional Islam in its purity," James is accused of writing. "We are not extremists, radicals or terrorists. We are only servants of Allah."
Police uncovered the plot in July 2005 while investigating gas station robberies that authorities say were committed to finance the attacks. Prosecutors said Washington used a shotgun to rob a Torrance gas station on July 4, 2005.
James faces as many as 20 years in prison when he is sentenced March 31. Washington faces as many as 20 years in prison on the conspiracy charge and five years to life for the firearms offense when he is sentenced April 28.
Both men said little during their separate hearings, answering U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney's questions with one-syllable responses.
When a reporter asked Washington's attorney, Ellen Barry, why he was pleading guilty, she replied, "He decided that was in his best interest to do that."
Robert Carlin, James' attorney, declined to comment.
Also indicted in the case were Gregory Vernon Patterson and Hammad Riaz Samana. Samana is a Pakistani national, while the others are U.S.-born Muslim converts.
Patterson and Samana are charged with conspiracy to levy war against the U.S. government through terrorism, conspiracy to possess and discharge firearms in a violent crime, conspiracy to kill members of the U.S. government uniformed services, and conspiracy to kill foreign officials. Patterson is also charged with a robbery count and using a firearm in a violent crime.
Patterson is expected in court Monday to enter a plea, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Staples. He did not elaborate because the plea agreement is sealed.
Samana is undergoing a psychological evaluation, Barry said.
The plot was orchestrated by Washington, Patterson and Samana at the behest of James, an inmate at the California state prison at Sacramento who founded the radical group Jamiyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh, or JIS, authorities said.
Washington converted to Islam while imprisoned with James, then looked to recruit other members for the group, authorities said.
Washington, Patterson and Samana — who attended the same Inglewood mosque — are accused of conducting surveillance of military sites, synagogues, the Israeli Consulate and El Al airline facilities in the region, as well as doing Internet research on Jewish holidays, prosecutors said in 2005.
James preached that JIS members should target for violent attack any enemies of Islam, or "infidels," including the U.S. government and any supporters of Israel, according to court documents.
He also created a document he called the "JIS Protocol," which advocated the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in the U.S. that followed Shariah law, or Islamic law.
"Sit back, build and attack!" prosecutors say James wrote in his document. "Our obvious targets being the Western forces of the U.S. and their ... society."
James spelled out in a separate document that JIS members must learn Arabic, acquire two pistols with silencers, learn bomb-making and become "legitimate."
"Acquire identification, drivers license. ... Keep regular contact with your parole agent," prosecutors say James wrote. "Your dress code must not bring attention. ... We have work to do."