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California Taliban Wannabe Sentenced to 15 Years in Bomb Plot

A California man who wanted to join the Taliban was sentenced to 15 years in prison Thursday for trying to blow up an Oakland bank with a fake car bomb supplied in an FBI sting.

Matthew Aaron Llaneza, 29, of San Jose could have been sentenced to 30 years. But noting court documents that detailed his history of mental illness and substance abuse, U.S. District Judge Virginia Gonzalez Rogers approved a plea deal that attorneys for worked out with federal prosecutors.

Llaneza was arrested Feb. 8, 2013, after he tried to detonate a sport utility vehicle outside a Bank of America building in Oakland.

The SUV was packed with inert chemicals that he thought he would set off with cellphones, according to documents on file in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

Llaneza told an undercover agent posing as a Taliban operative that he wanted to commit violent acts in the name of Islam then flee the U.S. after the bombing.

Prosecutors said they agreed to the reduced sentence because of Llaneza's mental illness and the steps he took to minimize casualties by detonating the "bomb" before it opened early in the morning.

In letters asking Rogers for lenience (PDF), Llaneza's parents wrote that "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."

"We believe someone would have to of [sic] put this idea in his head for him to follow through with such a lack of judgment, which he seems not capable of making by himself."

— M. Alex Johnson