Terrorist plot by militia group in Kansas thwarted

Federal investigators stopped a domestic terrorism plot by a militia group that planned to detonate bombs at a Kan. apartment complex where a number of Somalis live

By Tim Potter and Amy Renee Leiker
The Wichita Eagle

GARDEN CITY, Kan. — Federal investigators said Friday they stopped a domestic terrorism plot by a militia group that planned to detonate bombs at a Garden City apartment complex where a number of Somalis live.

Three southwest Kansas men were arrested and charged in federal court with domestic terrorism, Acting U.S. Attorney Tom Beall said at a news conference in downtown Wichita.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Jackson talks about the agency's role in stopping a bomb plot as he joined Acting U.S. Attorney Tom Beall, left, on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016, in announcing charges in a suspcted domestic terrorism plot, in Wichita, Kan. (Photo/Wichita Eagle)
FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Jackson talks about the agency's role in stopping a bomb plot as he joined Acting U.S. Attorney Tom Beall, left, on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016, in announcing charges in a suspcted domestic terrorism plot, in Wichita, Kan. (Photo/Wichita Eagle)

The three are suspected of conspiring to set off a bomb where about 120 people – including many Muslim immigrants from Somalia – live and worship, Beall said.

An apartment at the complex also serves as a mosque, officials said.

Curtis Allen, 49; Gavin Wright, 49; and Patrick Stein, 47, were arrested in Liberal on Friday morning, Beall said. Allen and Wright are Liberal residents; Stein lives in Wright, a small town just east of Dodge City.

Wright is the owner of G&G Home Center in Liberal, Beall said. Allen works there.

The three men are being held in Sedgwick County and face arraignment there at 10 a.m. on Monday. If convicted, they could face life in federal prison, Beall said.

The men are members of a small militia group that call themselves the Crusaders, Beall said. The bombing was scheduled for Nov. 9 so as to not affect the general election.

“It is very concerning and very disheartening,” Hussam Madi, spokesman for the Islamic Society of Wichita, said of the planned attack.

“I thank God that they were able to be caught before anything can happen. We don’t need such actions here within our community and within our country.”

‘Culture of hatred’
Beall said the investigation involved an FBI probe “deep into a hidden culture of hatred, violence” and what amounted to a startling plot. The FBI launched its investigation eight months ago, on Feb. 16.

“These individuals had the desire, the means and the capabilities and were committed to carrying out this act of domestic terrorism,” Special Agent in Charge Eric Jackson said at Friday’s news conference.

In an e-mailed statement after the plot’s announcement, the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on state and federal law enforcement agencies to step up protection for mosques. The group is the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.

“Given this alleged plan to attack a Kansas mosque, the two other hate incidents reported today against Islamic institutions in Michigan and New Jersey, and the overall spike in anti-mosque incidents nationwide, state and federal authorities should offer stepped-up protection to local communities,” Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement.

Beall and Jackson, at the news conference, said the men were stockpiling weapons and were going to publish a manifesto after the bombing. One of the men said that the bombing would “wake people up,” Beall said.

They formed a plan of violent attack targeting Somalis and – after considering a host of targets, including pro-Somali churches and public officials – settled on the apartment complex, he said.

The plot involved obtaining four vehicles and filling them with explosives. The men discussed parking the vehicles at the four corners of the complex and detonating them to “create a big explosion,” Beall said.

They planned to use a cellphone to detonate the explosion. Allen said he had the materials and said they would test them, the court affidavit said.

In addition to the apartments and the mosque, the affidavit said “Stein, Wright, and Allen … discussed targeting churches in Garden City that have supported refugees.” Stein said one particular church “needs burnt to the ground.”

The men also talked about targeting “city/county commission meetings, local public officials, landlords who rent property to Muslim refugees, and organizations providing assistance to Muslim refugees.”

Weapons found
Beall said Stein met with a confidential FBI source in rural Finney County on Wednesday to examine some automatic weapons brought by the source from an FBI lab in Quantico, Va.

After trying out two of the firearms, Stein took the FBI source to see the Garden City complex the attack was targeting.

Stein told the FBI source he would provide ammonium nitrate for the bomb and that he wanted to contribute $200 to $300 for other materials, Beall said.

Three different times, a court document said, Stein did surveillance “on potential target locations around Garden City and other parts of southwestern Kansas.”

Stein and other Crusaders met in a field to avoid FBI surveillance, and Stein brought up the Orlando nightclub shooting.

“He proposed carrying out an attack similar to the Orlando shooting against a Muslim refugee location in Garden City,” the affidavit said.

Stein also told the FBI source he was worried Allen’s girlfriend would go to the Liberal Police Department and disclose the militia’s plans, Beall said. Allen, he said, had been arrested in a domestic violence case in Liberal on Tuesday.

According to the affidavit, that’s what happened.

On Tuesday, Allen’s girlfriend called Liberal police, said she was battered by Allen and was leaving their home. She showed Liberal officers a room in the home with a large amount of ammunition and components to make more and build firearms.

That night, officers stopped Allen and found ammunition, including an AK-47 magazine.

Also Tuesday, the girlfriend told the FBI she saw a white powder being made at G&G. The powder looked like explosives, the affidavit said.

Then on Wednesday, a search of the mobile home business found a possible detonator plus items used to make improvised explosives, it said.

Also found, the affidavit said: “A yellow binder and paperwork labeled ‘The Anarchist Cookbook.’ ”

Police officers in Liberal estimated they found “close to a metric ton of ammunition in Allen’s residence.”

‘Sovereign citizen’
The defendants were “planning to take imminent actions,” said Jackson, the FBI special agent in charge.

“They were committed to carrying this out,” he said.

Jackson would not be specific about how the FBI got the information that led to the investigation.

He described the defendants as being part of a militia with “sovereign citizen” ties.

Asked whether there could be more suspects, Jackson said, “We feel as though the individuals involved in this plot have been stopped and that the individuals’ plot has been stopped.”

Beall referred to the defendants’ group, the Crusaders, as being an isolated group.

Jackson wouldn’t say how big the group was or whether it had links to other groups.

Beall said the case shows that such an attack “can happen anywhere.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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