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.
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.
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Curtis Allen, 49; Gavin Wright, 49; and Patrick Stein, 47, were arrested in Liberal, Kan., 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. 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 emailed 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 allegedly 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 reportedly 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.”
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 alleged 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, Fla., 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.”
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.
There are now 892 “hate” groups operating across the country, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. They include white nationalists, Klansmen, neo-Nazis, skinheads, border vigilantes and even black separatists.
That’s up from 794 groups in April 2015, when The Star published a special report about domestic extremist groups. The Star interviewed members of domestic extremist groups and found that yesterday’s larger movements had metastasized into a widespread network of organizations and individuals.
Beall said the case shows that such an attack “can happen anywhere.”
Contributing: Oliver Morrison and Stan Finger of The Eagle
More details from the court affidavit
The three southwest Kansas men who allegedly plotted to blow up an apartment complex where Somali immigrants live and worship “routinely expressed a hatred for Muslims,” an affidavit filed in federal court says.
Other details from the affidavit include:
A paid confidential source for the FBI had attended many meetings of a group that called itself the Crusaders. The members met as often as once a week and talked daily by phone. The source wore a recorder. Investigators corroborated information from the source.
The defendants allegedly believe that Muslims “represent a threat to American society,” and they wanted to “inspire other militia groups” and to “wake people up,” it said.
This past February, while the source was “driving (Patrick) Stein around, Stein at various times yelled at Somali women dressed in traditional garb, calling them” racist and sexist slurs. Stein said several times that they “needed to eliminate” the Somalis, the affidavit said.
At a meeting in May, the document said, Curtis Allen talked about putting mocking signs around the necks of the people they targeted after “we blow the top of their head off.”
In a May phone call, a frustrated Stein reportedly “said he wanted to get a .22, go over to Garden City, Kansas, start kicking in doors of the Somali apartments, and kill them one by one.” He would use a silencer on the gun, it said.
Stein allegedly said he would use rocket-propelled grenades to blow up the targets’ apartments — “boom … I’m outta there.”
Allen at one point reportedly said they faced “going to prison for life. … We need to be pre-emptive before something happens.”
Stein allegedly interjected: “When we go on operations there’s no leaving anyone behind, even if it’s a one-year-old, I’m serious.”
On Sept. 13, Stein and the source reportedly spoke about the size of the container they would need to store their explosives. “Stein believes the trash cans (containing the explosives) should be in place at a mosque no earlier than three hours” before detonation “to avoid suspicion.”