After nearly two months of investigation, prosecutors are expected to ask a federal grand jury in Los Angeles today to charge at least three men with conspiracy to commit terrorism in connection with an alleged plot to attack National Guard recruitment centers, synagogues and other sites in Southern California.
Prosecutors may also seek to bring charges against one or two inmates at a state prison in Folsom, said federal, state and local law enforcement sources.
If a federal indictment is returned, the charges will mark a significant advance in a case that has drawn national attention because of concerns that the alleged plot could have exposed the ability of would-be terrorists to recruit sympathizers -- and even hatch attacks -- behind prison walls.
Meantime, law enforcement sources confirmed Tuesday that two other Los Angeles men had been arrested by authorities investigating the alleged terrorism plot. The sources cautioned, however, that evidence so far links Mohamed Jadib, 29, and Nader Ben Ghalba, 26, only to the alleged sale of counterfeit purses and sunglasses.
Both men were arrested Friday by Los Angeles police and were arraigned Tuesday, pleading not guilty to the counterfeit charges.
Authorities have focused on a little-known group of Islamic extremists known as Jamiyyat Ul Islam Is Saheeh or JIS, which translates as the Assembly of Authentic Islam. The small but worrisome group, law enforcement sources said, has existed at least five years in California prisons.
As part of the continuing investigation, FBI headquarters has directed agents nationwide to conduct threat assessments at prisons across the country, according to a letter to the California Department of Corrections.
“The primary goal of these efforts is to assess and disrupt the recruitment and conversion of inmates to radicalized ideologies which advocate violence,” Randy D. Parsons, acting director of the FBI’s Los Angeles division, said in the Friday letter.
Parsons said FBI and/or terrorism investigators should work with prison officials to identify people inside or outside prisons who had been advocating violence to advance radical agendas. For some time, Parsons said, state corrections officials and the FBI have been trying to address the potential threat. But recent investigations, he wrote, “have identified a clear need to increase the FBI’s focus and commitment in this area.”
The Southland investigation began in early July after Levar Haney Washington, 25, and Gregory Vernon Patterson, 21, were arrested by Torrance police in connection with a string of armed robberies at gas stations. Police had staked out the pair after Patterson allegedly dropped his cellphone at the site of a previous robbery, they said.
Torrance detectives searched Washington’s South Los Angeles apartment and allegedly found evidence -- bulletproof vests, radical Islamic literature and a list of addresses -- indicating a plot to shoot up locations including National Guard facilities and the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles.
Sources close to the investigation said there was evidence that Patterson was only days away from picking up a high-powered rifle.
Nearly a month after the two men were taken into custody, federal authorities arrested Hammad Riaz Samana, a 21-year-old Pakistani native, on unspecified federal charges. He remains in federal custody.
Samana’s attorney did not return a call for comment Tuesday, and lawyers for Washington and Patterson said they had not been told that their clients were facing imminent federal criminal charges. Washington and Patterson have pleaded not guilty to the state charges of armed robbery. Both remain at Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.
Though Patterson and Samana have no criminal history, records show that Washington, allegedly a former Rollin’ 60s gang member, served almost six years in prison for a 1999 assault and robbery in Orange County.
During his incarceration at the Folsom prison, according to sources, Washington met two men who also have come under scrutiny in the terrorism investigation. The men, Kevin Lamar James and Peter Martinez, were once cellmates at the prison. James, 29, of Gardena, is in prison for attempted robbery, and Martinez, 37, of Oakland, is serving a 40-year sentence for attempted murder.
At its peak, the FBI-led investigation of the alleged plot has involved more than 200 agents, Los Angeles police detectives and counterterrorism investigators from numerous other federal, state and local agencies.
In a statement released Tuesday, the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council said it had learned that the indictment would be issued today.
The council urged federal prosecutors to “exercise transparency” in their investigation to reduce suspicions that Muslim Americans were being unfairly targeted by counterterrorism officials.
“We are anxiously awaiting the facts that will come out of the trial,” said Salam Al-Marayate, executive director of the council. “And at the end of the day, we believe it will be clear that the mainstream Muslim community is standing shoulder to shoulder with other Americans and law enforcement against extremists.”