Threat Detection Screening: Thwarted Terror Attack at Oakland Bank
On the evening of February 8, 28-year-old Matthew Aaron Llaneza was arrested by a federal terrorism task force for attempting to blow up a Bank of America building located at 303 Hegenberger Road in Oakland, CA.
Reportedly, undercover federal agents, posing as operatives connected to the Taliban and Mujahideen in Afghanistan, made contact with Llaneza last November. At that time, Llaneza indicated that he supported the Taliban and intended to carry out a bombing that would be blamed on “anti-government activists.” His hope was that the attack would spur a government crackdown and lead to a civil war. According to FBI agents, he also stated that he wanted to travel to Afghanistan to train Taliban fighters.
During subsequent meetings with undercover agents, Llaneza chose the Bank of America building as the target for the attack and expressed his desire to “bring down the entire building” with a bomb. On January 26, Llaneza and the undercover agent constructed what the suspect believed to be an explosive device, with inert materials provided by the FBI. Llaneza contributed two cellphones, an LED light, a nine-volt battery and a battery snap cap to the construction of the device.
Although Llaneza offered to carry out a suicide bombing by driving an SUV loaded with explosives into the building, the plan was to utilize one of the cell phones as a trigger. When the suspect attempted to detonate the inert device, he was immediately arrested. Llaneza is charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction against property used in an activity that affects interstate or foreign commerce.
The MSA Research and Intelligence Analysis Team has been following this situation closely, and has identified the following implications:
- Llaneza was born in the United States and briefly served in the U.S. Marine Corps until he was discharged for unknown reasons.
- He converted to Islam in 2011, taking the name of Tarq Khan.
- According to Santa Clara County court records, Llaneza was charged with weapons offenses in 2011. Authorities believe that his conviction for illegally possessing an AK-47 rifle and high-capacity magazines may have led to his anti-government beliefs.
- He is also described as likely suffering from mental illnesses that include “bouts of paranoia, suicidal tendencies, hallucination and voices in his head.” Llaneza has been hospitalized for mental illness and suicidal threats in the past.
- According to authorities, Llaneza considered several financial targets in the area, including the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. After concluding that the location was too secure, he decided to target the Bank of America building.
- Federal officials believe that Llaneza chose Bank of America due to the symbolism of the bank’s name and his belief that Oakland has been a center for protest activity.
- Llaneza reportedly settled on the bank after viewing aerial images of the facility and the surrounding area. This type of pre-operational surveillance is an element of the terrorist attack cycle and has been an element in many prior terror attacks.
- Financial institutions have been targeted by terrorists on several occasions, including the foiled plot to bomb the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City last fall and the al-Hindi plot in 2001. The suspects in both those cases had also considered the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) as a potential target and had carried out pre-operational surveillance at a number of locations.
- U.S. financial institutions remain attractive targets for terrorist attacks due to the potential for significant economic impact.
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