LOS ANGELES (Aug. 21)
More than 200 federal and local counterterrorism agents are investigating links between the activities of Islamic gangs in California prisons and possible planned attacks on local Israeli and Jewish targets. The lengthy and highly secretive investigation has led to the arrest of a Pakistani national and two Black Muslim converts.
The case started mundanely in mid-July when police arrested Levar Haney Washington, 25, and Gregory Vernon Patterson, 21, as suspects in a string of gas station robberies.
A search of Washington’s apartment turned up what police described as “jihadist” literature, bulletproof vests and an address list of some two dozen Los Angeles sites.
Two separate entries referred to the “Consulate of Zion,” which investigators took to mean the Israeli Consulate, and the El Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles International Airport, the site where an Egyptian immigrant killed two Israeli Americans in 2002.
Also listed were two synagogues and a number of California National Guard recruiting stations.
A spokesman at the Israeli Consulate confirmed earlier that warnings of possible threats had been received from the FBI, adding, “We fully trust American authorities to handle the situation.”
The probe by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force was extended recently with the unannounced arrest of Hamad Riaz Samana, a 21-year-old Pakistani college student. Samana and the two other arrested men allegedly attended the same mosque in the Los Angeles area.
FBI and police spokespersons have been extremely tight-lipped about the investigation, but the Los Angeles Times reported that the probe is also targeting California’s Folsom State Prison, where Washington converted to Islam while serving a term for assault and battery.
A particular focus is a group called Jamiyyat Ul Islam Is Saheeh, roughly translated as the Assembly of Authentic Islam. According to gang specialists, JIS has operated at Folsom for five years and is the smaller of two Islamic gangs active in California prisons.
Counterterrorism officials have long seen prisons as likely breeding grounds for homegrown Islamic extremist groups plotting their own local attacks without any links to overseas networks.
Earlier this year, the FBI’s director, Robert Mueller, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that “prisons continue to be fertile ground for extremists who exploit both a prisoner’s conversion to Islam while still in prison, as well as their socioeconomic status and placement in the community upon their release.”
Another lead being pursued is the recent job held by Patterson, the second suspect in the alleged gas station holdups, at a duty-free gift shop at the airport’s international wing, which also houses the El Al ticket counter, the Times reported.
Patterson has no criminal record.
Responding to heightened concerns, the regional chapter of the Anti-Defamation League and law enforcement authorities are planning a security briefing for Jewish institutions on Sept. 15.