15-year sentence for man who wanted to bomb bank

Feb 28, 2014, 7:26 AM

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) – A California man with delusions of joining the Taliban was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for trying to blow up a bank with a car bomb he thought would go off but was actually made up of inert materials supplied by the FBI.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Gonzalez Rogers said Thursday she was satisfied that the sentence _ spelled out in a plea deal between Matthew Aaron Llaneza and federal prosecutors _ struck a balance between acknowledging the 29-year-old San Jose resident’s mental condition and punishing him for actions that “by their nature are terrorist.”

Llaneza was arrested last February near a Bank of America building in Oakland after he tried to detonate an SUV loaded with chemicals he secured with the help of an FBI agent posing as a Taliban go-between.

Both the vehicle and the inert chemicals loaded inside were supplied by FBI agents after Llaneza allegedly made contact with an undercover agent who pretended to have connections with the Taliban and helped him build a phony car bomb. He was arrested near the four-story bank building in Oakland after he pressed a cellphone trigger to try to detonate the explosives, which he believed were real.

The FBI alleges Llaneza hoped the explosion would be blamed on anti-government militias and prompt a government crackdown that would touch off civil unrest in the United States. He also allegedly bragged that he had experience in guerrilla warfare and expressed a desire to join the Taliban in Afghanistan after carrying out the terrorist plot.

The judge acknowledged that Llaneza sought to minimize deaths and injuries from his failed plot by carrying it out in the middle of the night and may have been motivated as much by a desire for human connection than hated for his country. Within that context, “Fifteen years is sufficient, but not more than necessary,” Rogers said.

“This case, like many others we all read about, seems to indicate there are individuals who have been rejected time and time again who are looking to belong and to be accepted,” Rogers said. “This was a most unfortunate way of doing about it.”

Along with the prison term, Rogers sentenced Llaneza to spend the rest of his life on probation, meaning law enforcement officers will be free to search him at any time.

Llaneza pleaded guilty in October to one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, a conviction that would ordinarily carry a sentence of 30 years to life. Looking slight, pale and wide-eyed during his court appearance Thursday, Llaneza apologized to the judge, said he was taking psychiatric medication and would “seek rehabilitation while incarcerated.”

Llaneza’s parents, Steven Llaneza and Dora Tune, had submitted a letter to the judge attesting to his “his genuinely good core character” and lifetime of struggles.

“The conduct he pleaded guilty to is very out of character for him, and we never ever would have thought he would come up with an idea like he has been accused of,” they said.

Steven Llaneza attended Thursday’s hearing but did not address the court. He declined to speak with reporters afterward.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a pre-sentencing memo that it took into account Llaneza’s history of mental illness _ he has been diagnosed at various times as suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder _ and the fact that he tried to minimize casualties by trying to blow up the building in the early morning when it would be mostly unoccupied.

“Defendants’ conduct here was very serious. He knowingly and willfully participated in a plan to blow up a bank building. He created the plan and selected the target. He helped build what he believed to be a large bomb to accomplish the plan. He drove the bomb to the bank building, placed it in a location designed to maximize its destructive force, then attempted to detonate it twice,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Caputo wrote in the memo.

“Had the bomb been real, it would have destroyed at least a portion of the building and easily could have killed or seriously injured innocent bystanders.”

Llaneza’s defense lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender Jerome Matthews, said in a memo of his own that he would not argue with a 15-year sentence during Thursday’s hearing even though “it is an open question whether Matthew Llaneza would have participated in a plot to detonate a car bomb had he not been introduced to and guided by an undercover FBI agent.”

“Matthew was not a radicalized jihadist but rather a delusional, severely mentally disturbed young man; he had no technical skills to speak of,” Matthews wrote. “He had no training or background that would have helped him to accomplish an actual bombing; he was preternaturally suggestible and desirous of being accepted; and, not least, he had no desire to inflict mass casualties.”

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on ...
Associated Press

President Joe Biden in State of Union attempts to reassure condition of nation

President Joe Biden called on Republicans in his State of the Union speech to work with him to “finish the job” of rebuilding the economy.
24 hours ago
President Biden gives his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress at the U.S....
KTAR.com

Watch: President Joe Biden gives 2nd State of Union address

President Joe Biden gave his second State of the Union address in office to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol on Tuesday night.
24 hours ago
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell speaks at the Economic Club of Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 202...
Associated Press

Fed’s Powell: Strong hiring could force further rate hikes

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday that if the U.S. job market further strengthens in the coming months or inflation readings accelerate, the Fed might have to raise its benchmark interest rate higher than it now projects.
24 hours ago
President Joe Biden speaks at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting, Friday, Feb. 3, 202...
Associated Press

President Joe Biden aims to reassure nation in State of Union address

President Joe Biden's speech before a politically divided Congress comes as the nation struggles to make sense of confounding cross-currents at home and abroad.
24 hours ago
(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)...
Associated Press

Lucky player in Washington wins $754.6M Powerball prize

Someone in Washington state overcame steep odds Monday night to win a $754.6 million Powerball jackpot.
24 hours ago
This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed ...
Associated Press

Release of toxic chemicals from derailed tanker cars begins in Ohio

Crews began releasing toxic chemicals into the air from five derailed tanker cars that were in danger of exploding Monday.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
...
Fiesta Bowl Foundation

Celebrate 50 years of Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade magic!

Since its first production in the early 1970s, the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe has been a staple of Valley traditions, bringing family fun and excitement to downtown Phoenix.
(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...
DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
15-year sentence for man who wanted to bomb bank