OAKLAND, Calif. - A California man with delusions of joining the Taliban was sentenced today to 15 years in federal prison for trying to blow up a bank with a car bomb he thought would go off but was actually made up of inert materials supplied by the FBI.
U.S. District Judge Virginia Gonzalez Rogers said she was satisfied that the sentence - spelled out in a plea deal between Matthew Aaron Llaneza and federal prosecutors - struck a balance between acknowledging the 29-year-old San Jose resident's mental condition and punishing him for actions that "by their nature are terrorist."
Llaneza was arrested last February near a Bank of America building in Oakland after he tried to detonate an SUV loaded with chemicals he secured with the help of an FBI agent posing as a Taliban go-between.
Both the vehicle and the inert chemicals loaded inside were supplied by FBI agents after Llaneza allegedly made contact with an undercover agent who pretended to have connections with the Taliban and helped him build a phony car bomb. He was arrested near the four-story bank building in Oakland after he pressed a cellphone trigger to try to detonate the explosives, which he believed were real.
The FBI alleges Llaneza hoped the explosion would be blamed on anti-government militias and prompt a government crackdown that would touch off civil unrest in the United States. He also allegedly bragged that he had experience in guerrilla warfare and expressed a desire to join the Taliban in Afghanistan after carrying out the terrorist plot.
The judge acknowledged that Llaneza sought to minimize deaths and injuries from his failed plot by carrying it out in the middle of the night and may have been motivated as much by a desire for human connection than hated for his country. Within that context, "Fifteen years is sufficient, but not more than necessary," Rogers said.
"This case, like many others we all read about, seems to indicate there are individuals who have been rejected time and time again who are looking to belong and to be accepted," Rogers said. "This was a most unfortunate way of doing about it."