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For weeks, a US Army veteran plotted a terror campaign across LA, authorities say

A board is displayed during a press conference to discuss the arrest of Mark Steven Domingo, who allegedly plotted terror attacks targeting southland sites, at the Federal Building on Monday, April 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, Calif. (Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

The targets kept changing, but investigators say Mark Steven Domingo’s mission remained as bloody as it was simple.

In one conversation, prosecutors said, the 26-year-old U.S. Army veteran spoke of spraying a Los Angeles police cruiser with bullets. Other times, his rage allegedly redirected toward a nearby synagogue. Sometimes he wanted to kill Christians, authorities said, and at least once, he considered bombing the Santa Monica Pier.

Domingo believed he should “start small,” considering one killing practice for the next, according to court documents. He hoped to learn about police response times and build toward a large-scale attack, possibly an explosion that would end with “hundreds and maybe thousands of U.S. citizens injured.”

“And then what?” an informant asked Domingo.

“Then the fun starts,” Domingo responded.

Domingo finally set his sights on a right-wing rally that was scheduled to take place Sunday in Long Beach’s Bluff Park, authorities said; he hoped to detonate an explosive device and gain vengeance for Muslims killed in other corners of the globe. But after receiving what he believed to be a pressure-cooker bomb while scouting the attack site, Domingo was arrested Friday by the FBI before his violent fantasies could become reality.

Federal investigators and local law enforcement leaders announced Domingo’s capture Monday, expressing relief that they were able to intercept a terror suspect they described as “consumed with hate, and hell-bent on mass murder.”

“It’s not inconceivable that I’d be standing here today, beginning my remarks by offering condolences to victims of a horrific attack,” said Ryan Young, special agent in charge of counterterrorism for the FBI’s Los Angeles field office. “But not today.”

An Army infantryman who once served in Afghanistan, Domingo was charged with attempting to provide material support to terrorists. If convicted as charged, he faces 15 years in prison and remains in federal custody pending a May 31 court hearing.

News of the thwarted attacks comes as Southern California is still reeling from an eruption of gunfire that left one woman dead and three others injured inside a synagogue near San Diego on Saturday. That attack is being investigated as an anti-Semitic hate crime, and federal investigators said Monday that religion was at the heart of Domingo’s motivations as well.

Domingo, who recently converted to Islam, had been under surveillance for weeks after he expressed a desire in an online post to commit acts of violence, according to a 30-page affidavit unsealed Monday. Specifically, he wanted revenge for Muslims killed during a mass shooting in New Zealand last month, according to court documents.

“I feel like I should make a christians life miserable tomorrow for our fallen bros n sis in new zealand … maybe a jews life (I don’t know) … they shed our blood,” he wrote in a post after the shooting, according to the affidavit. “no Muslim should have to experience this, a message needs to be sent.”

After weeks of online chats and recorded conversations with an undercover law enforcement officer and an FBI informant, Domingo settled on a target, which he described as a “white nationalist” rally scheduled for Long Beach on Sunday. The event had been organized by United Patriots National Front, whom extremism experts describe as a far-right organization with a dozen members, though they are not explicitly considered white nationalists.

Days before the rally, Domingo purchased 8 pounds of 3 1/2-inch-long nails and asked an FBI informant to connect him with a bomb-maker who could build an explosive device similar to the pressure cooker bombs that maimed dozens of people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. According to the affidavit, Domingo chose nails that “would be long enough to penetrate the human body and puncture internal organs.”

Rumors that the rally might be canceled unnerved Domingo, according to court records. He considered two alternative targets: a Saturday demonstration against California’s so-called sanctuary state law in Huntington Beach, and an attack on the Santa Monica Pier where he would set off an explosive and then spray survivors with gunfire before he died a martyr.

Ultimately, records show, Domingo settled on the Long Beach event. He drove to Bluff Park on Friday with the informant and an undercover officer, whom he believed to be the bomb-maker. After scouting the park, he took possession of an inert device which he thought was a “weapon of mass destruction” and was arrested by FBI agents.

Law enforcement officials did not warn organizers at either rally because they believed Domingo was the only credible threat to either event. The far-right group did not show up at Bluff Park, according to Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna, who said about 200 counterprotesters descended on the park without incident Sunday.

Federal investigators said the rapidly evolving nature of Domingo’s plans concerned them.

“Our biggest fear is this is what we call a rapid radicalization, a rapid mobilization, to violence,” the FBI’s Young said. “Sometimes, we get asked what keeps you up at night? This is a case that keeps us up at night.”

Domingo, who lives in Los Angeles’ Reseda section, had been assigned to Fort Campbell in Kentucky and served in Afghanistan from September 2012 to January 2013. Authorities said he left the armed forces shortly after. A Department of Defense representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Domingo did not receive an honorable discharge.

It was unclear when Domingo converted to Islam. According to the affidavit, he first posted a video declaring his faith on March 2. He began expressing a desire to see Americans killed a short time after.

“america needs another vegas event (to be honest) something to kick off civil unrest,” he wrote on March 3, referencing the 2017 mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas. “its not about winning the civil war its about weakening America and giving them a taste of the terror they gladly spread all over the world.”

The FBI made contact with Domingo online within the next two weeks, and he was under near constant surveillance until his arrest, officials said. During discussions with the informant, Domingo repeatedly suggested using one of the three rifles he owned to carry out a violent attack.

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement that the group is “grateful the alleged plans to hurt and kill innocent people were foiled. There is absolutely no justification for such murderous intent.”

But, Ayloush noted, he was “concerned by the FBI informant’s tactics, which seemed to encourage and spur this veteran to plot these attacks.”

His comment echoes those who have criticized the FBI’s online terror stings in the past, believing agents prod mentally ill suspects into involving themselves in plots they would otherwise have been unable to carry out. But court records show the informant repeatedly tried to talk Domingo out of his plans.

“You don’t need to, like, you don’t have to do this. You know that, right?” the informant told Domingo on March 22.

But in each conversation, Domingo’s violent desires seemed to escalate. He showed up to an April 19 meeting wearing camouflage and carrying a semiautomatic rifle, according to court records. When discussing the potential bombing, Domingo seemed to find joy in possible carnage.

“The human body is very easy to break. A grenade can do a lot of damage but a big (improvised explosive device) in a backpack, in a crowd?” he said, according to the affidavit. “You’re looking at at least 20 people dead, maybe 30 people injured … If we do this L.A. is going to be locked down.”


© 2019 Los Angeles Times

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