An Army veteran planned to detonate bombs at multiple Southern California locations in what authorities say was a terrorist plot hatched in retaliation for the deadly attack in March on New Zealand mosques.
The plot by Mark Steven Domingo, a 26-year-old man from Los Angeles, was thwarted by the FBI when an undercover officer discovered Domingo's plan to launch an attack, the Department of Justice said.
"This investigation successfully disrupted a very real threat posed by a trained combat soldier who repeatedly stated he wanted to cause the maximum number of casualties," US Attorney Nick Hanna said in the statement.
Domingo, an Army infantryman who served in Afghanistan and converted to Islam, expressed his support in online posts for "violent jihad, a desire to seek retribution for attacks against Muslims, and a willingness to become a martyr," according to the Justice Department. He was taken into custody Friday night, shortly after driving to Long Beach, California, to visit the site of a rally he planned to target in his "chilling terrorism plot," officials said Monday.
“After considering various attacks — including targeting Jews, churches, and police officers — Domingo decided to detonate an IED at a rally scheduled to take place in Long Beach this past weekend," according to a federal affidavit. "As part of the plot, Domingo asked his confederate — who actually was cooperating with the FBI as part of the investigation — to find a bomb-maker, and Domingo last week purchased several hundred nails to be used as shrapnel inside the IED.”
According to the Long Beach Post, the rally had been organized by a group called United Patriot National Front with ties to far-right figures. It was canceled and, instead, dominated by counter-protesters. Domingo had also eyed a secondary target — an anti-illegal immigration rally set to take place Saturday in Huntington Beach.
Domingo had come to the attention of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force a few days before the attack in New Zealand, said Ryan Young, special agent in charge of the JTTF team.
Before settling on detonating bombs in Long Beach, Domingo also expressed a desire to target Jews on their way to synagogues, as well as armed police officers, a military facility, and crowds at the Santa Monica Pier, a popular California tourist attraction.
"Mr. Domingo repeatedly spoke about becoming a martyr, and at one point said he would pledge allegiance to ISIS if they established a presence in the US," Hanna said, referring to the militant group.
Domingo posted his political and religious views online in multiple chatrooms, officials said, drawing the attention of investigators who allege that he veered toward violent rhetoric.
"It's not always simple to put an ideology into a distinct category, particularly when you're dealing with an alleged criminal behavior and, in many cases, a perverted view of the world and a twisted interpretation of a religion," Young said.
Young said that although Domingo spoke with several people online, authorities kept continual surveillance on him, and they believe there are no other conspirators or plots in Southern California.
The FBI's announcement of the plot comes just two days after a gunman opened fire at a synagogue near San Diego, killing one woman and injuring three others.
The attack, which occurred on the last day of Passover, resulted in the arrest of John Earnest, a 19-year-old who authorities said is also suspected of setting a fire in a mosque in March and making references to the New Zealand attack.
"There mustbe [sic] retribution," Domingo posted online, the federal affidavit said.
Domingo, officials allege, bought several hundred 3-inch nails that were supposed to be used as shrapnel for the improvised explosive device because Domingo believed they would be "long enough to penetrate the human body and puncture internal organs," according to the affidavit.
Domingo professed his Muslim faith in a March post online, according to officials, and said that "America needs another Vegas event" — an apparent reference to the deadly Las Vegas mass shooting in October 2017.