Would-be bank bomber sent to federal prison for 15 years

Feb. 27, 2014 at 8:28 PM
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OAKLAND, Calif., Feb. 27 (UPI) -- A self-proclaimed jihadist with a history of mental illness was sent to federal prison for 15 years Thursday for trying to bomb a California bank.

"I sincerely apologize," Matthew Aaron Llaneza, 29, of San Jose said during his sentencing in U.S. District Court in Oakland. "I'm sorry for any misconduct on my part."

Llaneza, who pleaded guilty in October, said he would seek help mental health treatment while in prison to he could pursue "a normal life" after he serves his time, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said she would recommend he be sent to a prison closest to Arizona where he has family, the newspaper said.

Federal prosecutor Andrew Caputo has described Llaneza as "willing to lay down his life" for jihad, the San Jose Mercury News said. Defense attorney Jerome Matthews has said his client is a "delusional, severely mentally disturbed young man."

Llaneza was arrested in February 2013 after trying to blow up a bank in Oakland in an effort to start a civil war. It turned out his contact for the explosives, which were fake, and the sport utility vehicle he drove to the bank was an undercover FBI agent.

In November 2012, Llaneza met with the agent, who was posing as someone with connections to the Taliban in Afghanistan, to plot the bombing. The FBI rented a storage facility for the SUV and the fake explosives. The morning of the scheduled bombing, Llaneza and the agent met to assemble the bomb. When Llaneza attempted to set it off, he was arrested.

The FBI's sting operation raised eyebrows.

Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, accused the agency of "creating a crime only to solve it."

Llaneza's family members contended he has no mechanical aptitude, and Matthews notes Llaneza has a history of mental illness. Matthews wondered if his client would have become involved in terrorism without the FBI's help.

None of those factors provides Llaneza with a "get-out-jail-free card," prosecutors say in court documents. "Among other things, his illness did not interfere with his ability to understand what he was doing."

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