Officials are investigating whether an alleged terrorist plot to attack Los Angeles-area targets on Sept. 11 or Jewish holidays was organized by members of a militant Islamic state prison gang, a top law enforcement official said Wednesday.
Federal and local counterterrorism officials are examining possible ties between a Pakistani man arrested in Los Angeles and a prison gang known as Jamat Ul-Islam Is Saheeh, said George Gascon, assistant chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Investigators believe Hammad Riaz Samana, who was arrested Aug. 2, has communicated with former or current inmates at California State Prison, Sacramento, involved with the gang, Gascon said.
Samana’s arrest followed an investigation in which authorities found what they believe was a terrorist target list after they arrested two men on suspicion of a series of gas station robberies in Los Angeles County. That list included three National Guard facilities, the Israeli Consulate and several synagogues.
Gascon said authorities believe the attacks were to be carried out on Sept. 11, the Jewish High Holidays or other dates, and warned the consulate and guard that their buildings were on the list.
‘Variety of targets’
“The plan was to assault, to commit terrorist acts against a variety of targets,” Gascon said.
The list was found at the apartment of Levar Haney Washington, 25, of Los Angeles. Washington and Gregory Vernon Patterson, 21 were arrested July 5 and have pleaded not guilty to robbery charges. They have not been charged in the terrorism probe.
Federal officials have refused to say what charges Samana, 21, might face.
Cathy Viray, an FBI spokeswoman, would not comment on the investigation because it is still under way.
Washington was previously an inmate at the prison outside Sacramento and investigators are examining whether the suspected plot was organized by two inmates there: Peter Martinez, 36, who is serving a 40-year sentence for second-degree murder, and cellmate Kevin James, 29.
Investigators have briefed prison officials around California and are trying to determine whether other inmates were involved. The FBI flew in two agents Monday to warn a gathering of the state’s prison wardens of the threat of prison-based Islamist groups.
“Nothing I have suggests there is a widespread al-Qaida recruitment movement within the prison system, but all you need is three or four to conduct an attack,” said Gary Winuk, chief deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, who helped arrange for the prison wardens’ FBI briefing.
It was unclear what led authorities from Washington and Patterson to Samana.
Three men attended same mosque
The three men attended the same mosque in Inglewood, though they were not seen meeting as a group, according to Arshed Quazi, president of the Jamat-E-Masijidul Islam mosque.
Samana attended the mosque after arriving in Los Angeles several years ago, Quazi said. He is from the Karachi area of Pakistan and was studying at Santa Monica College.
“He’s such a nice kid ... I’m shocked,” said Quazi, adding that Samana stayed with his family across the street from the mosque.
Quazi said the FBI questioned him several weeks ago, asking him to identify photographs of the three men.
Patterson’s attorney, Winston McKesson, said Patterson has no connection to extremist groups. Washington’s public defender, Jerome Haig, noted that his client was arrested in connection with robbery and that he has not seen any police reports or other evidence to suggest other alleged crimes.
“He hasn’t been charged with anything but robbery,” Haig said.
Samana’s lawyer could not immediately be located for comment.